Chris Kendrick (@CKendrick86)
CHICOPEE, Mass. – The Elms College field hockey team punched their ticket to the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Championship game with a 4-2 victory over visiting Wheelock College in a semifinal match at Leary Field Wednesday afternoon.
The Blazers (10-9) advance to the NECC Championship game to face the winner between top-seed Regis College and fourth-seeded Becker College Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats (8-10) concluded play for the 2016 season.
After back-and-forth opening minutes of play, the Blazers cracked the scoreboard in the 6th minute as freshman Olivia Keane (Enfield, Conn.) picked up a loose ball at midfield, raced into the Wildcat zone and found sophomore Madison Messier (Warren, Mass.) near the post, who delivered the ball to the front of the net for a finish by sophomore Jeszenia McGuire (Branford, Mass.) to stake Elms to a 1-0 lead.
The Blazers added to their advantage in the 13th minute of action when sophomore Hayley Omahen (San Diego, Calif.) made a run up the sideline and hammered a ball towards the net, which was deflected into the air by a Wildcat defender and landed at the feet of Messier, who tucked a shot past Wheelock freshman Alicia Hubbard (Chicago, Ill.), pushing Elms ahead 2-0.
Wheelock chipped away at the Blazers lead with 13:48 remaining in the first half as junior midfielder Alex LeBlanc (Atkinson, N.H.) played a free position ball to junior Katie Frade (Dartmouth, Mass.), who deflected the ball into the upper corner of the cage, cutting the gap to 2-1. The score remained intact heading into the break.
Just over five minutes into the second half, Keane secured another loose ball at midfield and raced towards the Wildcat goal where she found Messier open on the right side to her second goal of the day, padding the Blazers lead to 3-1.
In the 47th minute of play, the Blazers pressured on a corner opportunity, and senior Stephanie Esposito (Orange, Conn.) fired the loose ball off Hubbard, but fought for the rebound and snuck a shot to the back of the cage, building a 4-1 advantage for Elms. The Wildcats fought back as Frade netted an unassisted strike in the 56th minute, but the Blazers defense held Wheelock in check over the final minutes to secure the 4-2 win.
"It was exciting to actually see us dictate play today, which we've been working on all week and all season, and seeing it all come together in a playoff atmosphere was awesome," said Elms College Head Coach Anika Goodhue. "We were shooting smart and moving together as a unit, though we still had a little bit of separation at times. We started off smart in the beginning, and took advantage of our passing and scoring opportunities when we had them. I told the team we couldn't get comfortable with a two-goal lead, and that's it's easy to come back, especially when there was still a lot of time on the clock, so we played like it was 0-0 and came out fresh. We need to work on staying connected, our lines got disconnected at times, and making sure we are pushing the envelope from start to finish. We need to have heart more than anything in the championship game, and this team is built on heart, so we'll be okay in that sense, but we can't let the championship atmosphere be intimidating. We need to stay composed and play as hard as we can on Saturday."
The Wildcats edged the Blazers, 11-9, in the shot column, and 8-6 in penalty corners. Elms sophomore goalkeeper Jillian Lapponese (Enfield, Conn.) stopped five shots in the win, while Hubbard made two saves for Wheelock.
With two goals in the game, Messier becomes the Elms field hockey single-season leaders in points (38) and goals (16), surpassing the marks set by Emily Halkett in 1986 and 1989, respectively.
ELMS FIELD HOCKEY