Last week was a wild one for the Wildcats’ Field Hockey team.
By Melanie Cane
Last week was a wild one for the Wildcats’ Field Hockey team. Seeded second in both the NYSAIS and FAA leagues, they played the third-seeded Gryphons in the NYSAIS semifinal game November 5 and five days later met their crosstown revival in the FAA semifinal. In between, they played Hackley in the NYSAIS championship.
For the Wildcats, the NYSAIS semifinal was about avenging their early season loss to Holy Child, as well as about moving to the championships for the fifth year in a row. For the Gryphons, the game was about getting to the championships for the first time since 2008. The emotions leading up to the game were as intense as the matchup.
Holy Child jumped out to an early lead on a corner shot by Molly Mackie, who scored off a pass from co-captain Maddy Fitzwilliam. The Gryphons continued to dominate, but were unable to convert their corners or scrambles in front of the net, due in large part to the stellar performance of Rye Country Day senior goalie Melanie Mandell.
In the second half, the teams played evenly, but Wildcat freshman Catherine Appleyard tied the game on a corner with three minutes left to play. In the last four minutes of overtime, her eighth-grade teammate, Elizabeth Friedberg, scored on a breakaway. The stunning ending sent Rye Country Day, the defending champs, to the NYSAIS final against top-seeded Hackley.
Even though the Wildcats had won the four previous titles, nobody expected them to be there this year, because 14 of their players graduated. Injured senior co-captain Maddy Cooper was overwhelmed with joy. “Everyone counted us out this year.”
Holy Child Coach Barb Lorys called the game a heartbreaker. “We made a few mistakes which changed the outcome. In the second half, a foul was called which allowed them the penalty corner that tied the game. The second huge mistake was in the last 24 seconds of OT. Rye Country Day got a breakaway and got past our defense to a one-on-one with our goalkeeper, Charlotte Wertimer. Charlotte got a piece of it with her pad, but it deflected into the goal with one second left.” She added, “We had plenty of opportunities to score, but their goalie was key. We just couldn’t adjust to get the ball past her.”
The NYSAIS championship game went into triple OT, with Hackley winning 2-1. The Wildcats dominated in the scoreless first half, but the teams played equally in the scoreless second half. At the end of regulation play, Mandell had 14 saves; Hackley goalie Morgan Connor had 11.
The Wildcats got on the board early in the first ten-minute OT on a free shot by senior captain Charlotte Cooper. Then, with a few minutes left, the ball dribbled off a Hackley stick into the goal. Mandell thought her defenders had cleared the ball and was shocked when she realized what had happened. Neither team scored in the second 10-minute overtime, sending the game into one-on-one shootouts. Both teams scored twice in the first shootout. In the second, Rye Country Day’s Natalie Alpert scored a split second too late in the 10-second face off and goalie Mandell could not recover after diving to block a shot, enabling the Hackley shooter to dribble around her for a dramatic finish to this nearly three hour-long game.
Despite the loss, this was a spectacular game that showcased the impressive skills of both team’s goalies, as well as the talent, endurance, and poise of a very young Wildcat team.
Rye Country Day Coach Georgette Summers said she could not be prouder of the girls. “We began the season with only one sure starter and 19 other players who either came from the JV or Middle School teams, or off the bench during the previous season. We made it through to the finals of the tournament. We played at a high level and with intensity. It was a well-matched game, an outstanding final game. Our kids left everything on the field.”
Two days after the NYSAIS title game, the Wildcats hosted the Gryphons for the FAA semifinal. Rye Country Day won 2-0, on goals by Alpert and Natalie Needle.
The Wildcats’ season sadly ended anti-climatically with a 5-1 loss to Greenwich Academy in the FAA final November 12.