WRENTHAM, Mass. – With the modified 7-on-7 rules for field hockey this season, and all the space that leaves on the field, speed is more important than ever. It’s just two games into the season, but King Philip has wasted no time finding top gear.
Behind two goals apiece from Isabelle and Grace Crocker, the Warriors rolled to a 5-1 win against Mansfield on Thursday afternoon at Macktaz Field, sweeping the home-and-home against the Hornets ahead of next week’s matchup with defending league champion Franklin.
“It starts from the defense,” said KP coach Lisa Cropper. “With only six field players, you can’t chase all the way to the corners, so we kind of took the protect the house, protect the circle, and just shadow them. You’re also not running as much that way. Then we work it out just like a fast break. You outlet the ball and go right down the sideline into space.”
She added, “Our kids are so fast, if we just dump it into space no one is going to catch them.”
The teams played a tight, one-goal game on Tuesday and the second encounter started in similar fashion with Mansfield having a several early chances denied by KP goalie Makenzie Manning (seven saves). Once KP settled into its style of play, the Warriors took off and never looked back.
Abby Nixon (three assists) caused problems on the left wing all game and it was her run into the circle that led to the opening goal. The senior hit a cross just in front of goal that Kelly Holmes had first crack at but the ball slid to Isabelle Crocker at the far post for a tap in.
Sydney O’Shea also found room on the left to test Mansfield goalie Lily Danehy, as KP was able to keep the majority of the pressure in its attacking half of the field. Mansfield managed a couple of breakouts down the right with Grace Danehy and Abby Varricchione heavily involved, but Manning kicked aside a shot from Lindsay Devine on the only ball that got through on net.
KP doubled its lead just three minutes into the second when Nixon got free on the left and put a ball into the middle. Grace Crocker reacted first to the loose ball and knocked it through a crowd and in. Nixon was proving to be a handful. She made a long run and had a shot cleared off the line then was able to make a run from half, with Grace Fernandez on her shoulder the whole way, and force a save out of Danehy.
“Abby Nixon is doing phenomenal,” said Cropper. “She’s the one creating a lot of havoc out there with her speed and her stick work and the others are picking up the loose ends.”
With just two minutes to go before halftime, Isabelle Crocker got free on the right side and fired a shot to the far corner to make it 3-0. It was her fourth goal of the young season.
Cropper explained, “She’s so fast and she has a quick release and I’ve been telling the kids as soon as you have daylight in the circle then shoot it. I don’t care if it hits the goalie, she can’t smother it in this game, so then someone’s going to get a rebound.”
Any hope of a second half comeback was dashed just two minutes after the break when Nixon blocked an attempted clearance and found Grace Crocker alone in front. Danehy made the first stop but Crocker was able to get the rebound and finish for a four-goal advantage. KP was peppering the Mansfield goalie but Danehy came up big in the third quarter to keep it 4-0. Eight of her 11 saves came in the second half.
The Hornets got on the board with two minutes left in the third. Caitlin Dumouchel picked out Lola Varricchione right in front of goal and the freshman managed to squeeze it past Manning and just over the line for her first varsity goal.
Grace Danehy set up Abby Varricchione for a chance in the first minute of the fourth quarter but the shot went just wide. Six minutes later, KP put the game away. Nixon was again the playmaker, slipping a pass to Paige Berdos and she blasted it into the back of the net.
“You have to sub at the right time because if someone makes the run, then they can’t quite make the run back and if they’re in too long then they can’t get there,” said Mansfield coach Theresa Nyhan about defending with the new rules. “The defense is hard.”
Mansfield kept going even as legs were starting to tire. A nice passing combination from Alexandra Burnham to Lilly O’Brien to Celia Puleo forced Manning into a good save. Then Dumouchel teed up Emma Kelly but her quick shot smacked the post and stayed out.
Nyhan added, “We had chances early. KP had all six kids in the circle, so it’s just foul, back to the 25, foul, back to the 25, and we were not smart with our 25-yard hit options. We’ll be working on that at practice. They certainly took advantage of their opportunities.”