MANSFIELD, Mass. – It was a game that felt like a preview of the Div. 1 South tournament, with both teams defending in numbers and chances at a premium. Mansfield and North Attleboro, both defending division champions, demonstrated tough team defense and got timely goalkeeping in a fast-paced, scoreless draw on Wednesday night at Alumni Field.
“That was a good game,” said Mansfield coach Kevin Smith. “It was a state tournament-level game. It was physical, it was fast, and every mistake was punished by both teams.”
North created early chances in the first half. Emma Gaulin was particularly active in the Rocketeeers midfield winning the ball back and pushing North into the attack. A give-and-go with her sister Ashlyn allowed her to run at Emily Vigeant but the Mansfield defender was able to get back in time.
Just a minute later, Lydia Santos lined up a 30-yard free kick that dropped right into the middle of the box but was punched away by Mansfield keeper Lauren Whitman. The rebound fell to Haley Ferrin but her effort went over the bar. Kayla Pasquel played Emma Gaulin in behind on the left side of the box but her shot was saved by a diving Whitman (four saves).
Mansfield also passed the ball well in the opening half and was finding some space behind the North fullbacks. Sydney Mulkern played a ball into Steph Kempon the left edge of the box and her cross bounced off a defender in the box and bounced to Katie Garvin, who hit the volley over the bar.
Kemp had a neat turn in the box to get space for a shot that was blocked on its way to goal by Olivia Bishop. On the ensuing corner, Vigeant nearly curled it directly in, but North goalie Emma Noreck was able to get a fingertip on it. Emma Gaulin nearly opened the scoring a few minutes later but Whitman made the kick save.
Just before halftime, Vigeant again came close from a set piece. This time it was a 50-yard free kick that she put just under the crossbar but Noreck was able to get up and tip it away.
“Emma Noreck had probably her best game,” North coach Bill Wallace said. “At halftime I wanted to pull her because she’s been under the weather all week, but she told me to leave her in.”
The second half was a much cagier 40 minutes, as both teams clamped down in the midfield. Melissa Reef helped out the Hornets back line in limiting the touches for Ashlyn Gaulin and the center back pairing of Mikaela Maughn and Vigeant kept just about everything in front of them. On the other side, Sam Hawkins, the only returning defensive player from last year, and Brieann Westcott were equally tough to beat.
“They just played their hearts out,” Wallace said. “Twice this year we’ve changed what we normally do for teams and the girls reacted great to it. That’s not normally how we play but boy they did it to a ’T’. The longer you keep them off the board, the smaller the goal seems, the more those passes tend to go longer, and that was our intent.”
Mansfield had a good opportunity six minutes after the break when Garvin played Cassidy McMahon into space but Noreck was able to save. Vigeant’s corner found Garvin at the back post but her header was blocked by a host of North defenders.
Alex Moulson had a chance off a North corner but her header went narrowly wide. Kemp reacted first to a loose ball and had a go from 20 yards, just missing the target at the near post.
The best chance to break the deadlock came with 10 minutes to play. Santos slipped Pasquel into space on the right and she crossed to Ashlyn Gaulin in the box but the league’s leading scorer couldn’t get full purchase on her shot and it was saved comfortably by Mansfield’s second keeper, Caty DeMassi.
Wallace remarked, “We’re really happy with the point and now we’re one away from the tournament…Both teams played really strong and that’s a great tournament warm up.”
Mansfield was playing for only the second time in nearly two weeks and there was an element of rust, which North was able to amplify. Smith explained, “Our first touch just wasn’t there. Whether it was the first touch on the pass or on the receive and go, it was just a little too far away from ourselves and their speed and pressure was real intense, so we couldn’t afford that.”