By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
As the final buzzer sounded at the end of overtime Monday afternoon, the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes and Stone Ridge field hockey teams retreated to the sideline following a gripping match that saw both sides attack with abandon against stout and unbreakable defenses.
It seemed almost impossible to believe that they would end deadlocked at 0-0, but the match served as a useful exercise for the Saints as they ready themselves for postseason play.
The hosts’ defense looked impressive at Kelleher Field, especially sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Henrikson, who made several spectacular diving saves to prevent the Gators from getting on the board. They had to work hard, as Stone Ridge looked to counterattack at a fast pace and lived up to the team’s 10-2-1 record entering the contest.
The Saints too looked strong on offense, although they also were stymied by a solid Gator defense that crowded the penalty circle with defenders and gave the home side little room. And while they were disappointed to come away scoreless, it was a game that gave the hosts great heart.
“I think it’s extremely useful going into tournament time,” said Saints head coach Dionna Jordan. “It showed our endurance; it showed that we have heart and all season long, games that we’ve been up by a lot and then games where we’ve been down, I’ve been talking about playing 60 minutes and playing a full game. And today we played a full game.”
“I think this was a great experience to be put up against a very good team,” said junior midfielder Olivia Pugh. “It just keeps us wanting more and makes us hungrier.”
SSSAS has been in the fortunate position this year of being the team to beat, having won the Independent Schools League tournament title last season and following that up with an appearance in the semifinals of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament, eventually losing 2-0 to Norfolk Academy.
This year, with a record of 12-2-1 at the time of writing and with games at Potomac and Bullis to follow this week after the Times’ print deadline, the Saints have swept all before them, with their only defeats coming against Trinity Episcopal and McDonogh. Being dominant is something the players have embraced.
“I think they take it as a pride thing,” Jordan said. “They know that within the league, they are the ones to beat. They want to come out here and every time they get a chance to play, they want to demonstrate why they’re that team to beat.”
With that in mind, SSSAS wanted to come away with more than a scoreless draw against Stone Ridge, especially as the hosts’ offense looked strong at times. Despite forcing a number of short corners and ratcheting up the pressure as the game wore on, SSSAS could not quite take advantage against a stellar defense.
“They had a ton of defenders in the circle, which, as attackers, it’s really hard to get shots off on cage,” said senior forward Ellie Carson. “Our team really likes to connect our passes in the circle, short little choppy passes and tips and things like that, but when there’s so many defenders crowding, it’s hard to do that. We just weren’t used to that, and probably should have taken a couple more shots. That would have helped us, but the goalie was also good.”
“We’ve been talking about that all season long, finishing in the circle and taking advantage of the opportunities that we get,” Jordan said. “It was just one of those games where we couldn’t put it all together. But we held strong in other areas and I saw some things that I haven’t seen from us that make me really happy, so I’ll take it.”
The players and head coach agreed that their strong defensive unit was outstanding, and the scoreless tie will prepare them well for the upcoming playoffs.
“Taylor was on fire, and our defense was like a wall,” said Carson. “No matter what side or in the middle, wherever the ball went, they could get it up the field to our midfielders and connect the passes. They just never got tired. We trust them so much, and you can’t ask for anything more.”
The ISL playoffs begin in earnest on November 4, with the Saints likely to have byes through the first couple of rounds depending on the standings at the end of the regular season. With a hectic schedule on the way if they make a deep run, the team feels it is prepared for whatever comes next and hopeful of going even further than last year.
“We have goals, and our goals extend past the regular season,” Jordan said. “We want to see how far we can go. I think we’re all on the same page with that. We’re motivated. It’s something that we’ve talked about since they were out here in August, so we’re ready.”