Episcopal field hockey regroup after tough loss at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes

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Episcopal field hockey regroup after tough loss at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes
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By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

On October 9, despite the confidence of a four-game winning streak, the Episcopal field hockey team’s bubble appeared to burst with a 6-1 loss away against local rivals St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes in the Seminary Hill Cup, dropping the Maroon’s record to 6-4 overall.

With four days before their next game at home against Brookewood School, Episcopal’s players and coaches knew something needed to be done, so the three team captains led a period of reflection, and only provided the results to first-year head coach Shelly Montgomery afterward.

Whatever they talked about seemed to do the trick, as the Maroon dominated Brookewood to win 6-0 in a game where they did not even allow the visitors a shot on goal, leaving goalkeeper Maddie Eldridge as a spectator between the posts. At the other end, a hat-trick from sophomore Eleanor Winants, two goals from sophomore Erin Phillips and another by junior Caroline Knutson made the difference, and showed the hosts at their potent best.

“I think we 100 percent looked like a team that has been working together for four or five years and we’ve only been together for less than a month,” said Phillips after the game. “I think it really proved today that after an upset on Friday that we can definitely come back even stronger and we’re going to keep pushing through.”

With the defense rarely tested, the onus was on the Maroon’s offense to take advantage of its time of possession, and Winants was crucial in midfield as she came marauding forward and caused numerous problems for Brookewood. With plenty of crosses coming from the flanks, the hosts took full advantage as Phillips scored twice before halftime and Winants added a third goal.

After the break, Winants scored two more, sandwiching a goal from Knutson that came after a frenetic scramble in front of goal, and the players were delighted to see their efforts on offense pay off.

“We were really aggressive,” said Winants. “Sometimes we get really timid and shy, and we keep it down at our side on defense. But this game we were really pushing it through from the beginning and got it straight down to the circle and tried to get a goal as fast as possible because once we did that, they knew that we were a threat.”

On the strength of that performance, Episcopal appeared to have put the disappointment of a blowout loss to its crosstown rival behind it, albeit after taking some hard lessons from the defeat.

“Having a loss to St. Stephen’s, it really put our season in perspective,” Phillips said. “It showed us that we can’t always win, that we need to push through it and we need to learn from this mistake and have it in the back of our minds but not think about it all day. It’s definitely an uphill climb from here.”

“[The defeat] just showed us what we needed to work on,” Winants added. “Even though it brought us down, it showed us that we need to really improve, and it showed us what parts of the game we were weak at. I think we worked on it this game and got a lot better.”

It has been an up and down season so far for Episcopal, which saw an initial two-game winning streak wiped out by a three-game losing run, followed by a thumping four-match win streak. Even with some difficult moments, Montgomery is adamant her players are talented enough to make an impact in future games.

“I’ve been telling them, and I truly do believe this, that they have absolutely so much potential,” she said. “I’m really waiting for them to keep taking it to the next level because it’s been fun to coach them as they’ve jumped on absolutely everything I’ve sent their way.”

With a No. 7 ranking in the last two state polls, the Maroon may have one eye on the postseason, especially having lost in the quarterfinals of both the Independent School League and Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs last season. The players and coaches are well aware of what still needs to be done moving forward.

“I think we just [shouldn’t] change what we have already, keep getting better and working harder,” Phillips said. “I think the team works really well together and we’re good about switching positions and helping each other out and having a lot of give-and-goes. From here, we just need to push through and we need to remember the fundamentals and not let it get really scrappy.”

“One thing that we’ve been focusing on is playing together and being super intentional about the time that we have to practice,” Montgomery said. “It’s not about practicing more or necessarily harder, it’s really just being smart about our practicing. I think if we continue to do that, we’re going to continue to make these improvements that we’ve been making and be in a good place to be successful at the end of the season.”

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