NORTH EASTON, Mass. – A biting wind was whipping across Muscato Stadium on Wednesday evening and blowing a cold mist around the field. Rather than having her team sit in the weather waiting for the start of the varsity game, first-year Oliver Ames coach Abby Tepper moved the Tigers inside to warm up.
“I had them go into the team room before because they were sitting out watching the JV game,” said Tepper. “I usually try to give them a good pregame speech…I think they took it well.”
Whatever happened prior to the start of the game, once the whistle blew the Tigers were fired up and raced out to a 3-0 lead inside the first eight minutes. Junior Elizabeth Nuss scored two goals in that stretch and added a third with nine minutes remaining to clinch a 6-4 victory for the Tigers over division rival Mansfield.
“Liz is very quick,” said Tepper. “At practice I have her get on pads the whole time. We work all offense at practice because that’s what I knew and we do a ton of drills, a ton of tipping. She just knows to get on pads because I throw her on there all the time.”
Nuss was right on the pads of Mansfield goalie Molly Norton (six saves) just two minutes in to tap in a rebound after Norton saved two shots from the Tigers. Just two minutes later and Nuss scored from further away as her shot from the right side slipped through a traffic jam in front of goal and found the back of the net.
OA added a third in the eight minute when Sarah Stevens teed up Dimitra efremidis at the edge of the circle off a penalty corner. The senior buried the chance and forced the Hornets to take an early timeout.
“They came out strong, but actually we did too,” said Mansfield coach Theresa Nyhan. “The difference was the way they positioned the player in front of the goalie. It kind of threw us for a loop.
“It kind of threw our goalie off and then once we got that straightened out I thought it was a pretty even game. It’s just too bad that we started in the deficit.”
Katherine Vamosi made six of her nine saves in the first half and denied several Mansfield chances, but in the 13th minute the Hornets got on the board. Jill Hobaica was in the right place in front of goal to tip home a centering pass from Caitlin Whitman. The momentum only lasted four minutes before OA answered back on another long-range shot from Efremidis that snuck through a tangle of legs in front to make it 4-1.
With the lead, OA started to sit back a little deeper and Mansfield took advantage to get back into the game. A ball knocked in from the edge of the circle was tipped by Heather D’Amrab and flicked over the goalie’s pads by sophomore Maggie Danehy. Three minutes later and the lead was cut to just one when Whitman’s cross was redirected by Danehy into the path of Emily Ierardo at the back stick to tap in.
The scoring was not done with Sydney Hedrickredirecting Cristina Boudreau’s near post cross to widen the gap to two goals. Vamosi came up with a big sliding stop on Olivia Horn in the final seconds of the half to keep it 5-3.
“I think at the end of the first half we were back on our heels,” said Tepper. “We played with a lead and we weren’t playing aggressive… I told them that they had to keep the same intensity that they had at the beginning.”
The Hornets did come out of the break with renewed energy and eight minutes into the second half had cut the lead back to one. Ierardo was denied on a penalty corner by a point-blank save, but Mansfield kept the pressure up and Horn’s shot rebounded to the stick of Kristina O’Connell to make it 5-4.
OA did not sit back on the lead but continued to counter quickly and had several chances on the break. The Hornets continued to pressure and create openings in an entertaining end-to-end half.
“It was a fun game,” said Nyhan. “We needed enthusiasm and we brought it today. They played great, Oliver Ames played great…take away those first two, three goals and it was anybody’s game.”
With the Hornets chasing the tying goal, the Tigers were able to strike and put the game away. Efremidis had a restart on the left side and it was tipped Boudreau into the path of Nuss to close out her hat trick and seal the win.
“That was a reassurance one, for sure,” Tepper said. “But still anything could have happened in 10 minutes.”
Nyhan said, “I thought we had a shot but by that point, you know, we had key people who were tired and we just couldn’t quite pull the trigger. It was tough to do it at the end.”
Oliver Ames (6-0-3, 5-0-3) will try to keep the momentum going against Milford on Friday before having a week to prepare for the visit of Tepper’s alma mater, Foxboro. Mansfield (4-3-1, 4-3-1) will try to bounce back on the grass at Sharon on Friday.