NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Oliver Ames was seconds away from escaping the first half unscathed, just moments away from going into the halftime break scoreless against a Foxboro side that had a plethora of chances through the opening 40 minutes.
But just before the halftime whistle, the Warriors were finally able to solve Oliver Ames goalie Emily Meyers (12 saves), who had denied bid after bid from Foxboro.
That goal, off of the foot of sophomore Kailee McCabe, proved to be the game-winner and Foxboro added an insurance tally just over midway through the second half to secure a 2-0 win over the Tigers on the new turf field at Val Muscato Stadium.
“We were ready for this one,” said Foxboro head coach Katie Stalcup. “We knew they were undefeated just like we are, Britt [Sellmayer] is a great coach, he always puts together a great team. They are dangerous on corners, they always press hard. So we knew we had to come out ready to play today.”
Both sides had good chances in the opening minutes as OA’s Camryn O’Connor dispossessed a Foxboro defender but had her shot go wide. The Warriors had a similar chance on the other end but Jordyn Collins’ bid was just off frame.
From there, it was mostly chances for Foxboro for the rest of the half. Katelyn Mollica forced Meyers into a diving save on a shot from 25 yards out in the 10th minute. Two minutes later, McCabe and Alyssa VandenBoom combined with the latter being denied by Meyers.
Foxboro’s opportunities continued to pile up as sophomore Jordan Carman found Mollica inside the 18 but Meyers made a leaping stop to tip the shot over the bar. Two minutes later, Meyers made a pair of stops, denying Carman point-blank from in close, and then handling a shot from Lizzy Davis on the bounce.
Meyers’ best save came in the 25th minute as Mollica connected with Carman, who put a shot labeled for the back of the net but a great one-handed stop kept the ball from crossing the line.
“Emily Meyer played great for us,” Sellmayer said. “We have two great goalies, with Emma O’Donnell coming back from an injury. Emily really stepped up today and made a lot of great saves, she kept us in the game.
“[Foxboro] is just so strong, I think they have a legitimate chance to make a run in D2. You have to play a perfect game to beat them. We’re young from everywhere from the midfield to up front and it showed today. I thought my back four played as best as they could. We’ll learn from this and get better from it.”
Davis had another chance in the 28th minute but had her shot go over the ball after good pressure from OA defenders Abby Hodges and Leah Johnson, who both had strong performances along with outside backs Emma Pereira and Olivia Carroll. A corner kick in the 38th led to a chance by McCabe but Carroll was well-positioned at the far post.
McCabe started the sequence that led to the goal by winning a challenge near midfield. After Mollica played a ball wide for Davis, McCabe made a darting run through the defense and Davis played her in behind. She took a touch, was able to shield off a pair of defenders and slotted her shot in at the far post to make it 1-0.
“The chemistry is there with the girls. We’ve been working a lot in the preseason and so far during the season offensively, just about switching up our runs, using quick passes, and playing off each other well. And I feel like it’s clicking, it’s working.
“We had a frustrating result the other day so it was nice to get the win. We had a lot of chances like we did the other game but something felt different about this one. I think the girls learned a lot from the Milford game so I think they did a good job of turning things around quickly.”
Oliver Ames looked like a different team coming out of the halftime break, applying a lot of pressure on the Warriors’ defense over the first 10 minutes. O’Connor and Allison Evin combined to get into the area but Foxboro’s Kendra Wentling disrupted the chance.
Despite a strong push to open the half, Foxboro’s defense stood tall and preserved the lead.
“We didn’t have Yara [Fawaz] today and she’s our starting center back, she’s our rock on defense,” Stalcup said. “So I was a little nervous on how we’d respond but I was happy with how they played. Grace, my other center back, stepped up for us, and Emma [Dahl] came in and they held it, they did an awesome job.”
Foxboro added a second goal in the 64th minute as junior Ryan Sullivan won a foot race to a loose pass, eluding the oncoming keeper and burying a shot into the open net to make it 2-0.
OA had one final push late but Warriors’ goalie Morgan Sylvestre did well to come off her line and make the clearance.
Foxboro girls soccer (4-0-1 Hockomock, 4-0-1 overall) has a big non-league test on Monday with a trip to Medfield. Oliver Ames (4-1-0, 5-1-0) renews acquaintances with rival Mansfield on Tuesday night.
The teams went back-and-forth with all five goals coming in the second half. Twice the hosts took a one-goal lead, and twice the Bombardiers erased the deficit to tie the game. But OA junior Jimmy Keane nodded in the game-winner goal inside the final five minutes to secure the 3-2 win for the Tigers.
OA opened the scoring just over 10 minutes into the second half but Attleboro equalized six minutes later. The Tigers once again went ahead but that lead lasted just a minute when the Bombardiers equalized just over 60 seconds later.
The winning tally came in the 76th minute after a free kick from junior Matt Nikiciuk. Nikiciuk’s service from just beyond midfield dropped into the center of the area, was originally knocked up in the air, drawing the keeper out. The ball was partially cleared but only as far as Keane, who looped a header over the scrum and into the open net.
“We were able to play with a strong team, we were happy to play with them and compete, and that we could score against them,” said Oliver Ames coach John Barata. “And it was nice to see that we could bounce back after a couple of mental letdowns, and we continued to bounce back too. It was a good maturity test for the guys because we really haven’t had that yet.”
The Tigers dominated the opening 40 minutes but had nothing to show for it after the teams went into the halftime break scoreless. While the second half was a bit more even, Oliver Ames still created chances early and was able to break through in the 51st minute.
Junior Colin Milliken collected the ball and quickly switched fields, playing classmate Kevin Louhis in behind the defense. Louhis’ speed forced the keeper off his line, and he quickly cut inside around the charging keeper and centered to classmate Anthony DaCosta, who got his shot off just before a defender could get there to bury it into an open net for a 1-0 lead.
The hold up play of Attleboro junior Jackson Singer helped the Bombardiers find the equalizer. His ability to hold possession allowed Joey Soucy to make a run in and Singer found him streaking into the area. Soucy was fouled right on the edge of the box, giving Attleboro a penalty kick.
Senior Michael Russo confidently buried his chance from the spot to bring the visitors level at 1-1 in the 57th minute.
The Tigers continued to press though and went back ahead in the 61st minute. After a corner was cleared, Nikiciuk tracked it down and found Milliken on the sideline, who dropped a cross to the far post and Louhis finished on the bounce at the post to make it 2-1.
“We had dominated the entire first half, outshot them by a large margin and have a couple balls cleared off the line,” Barata said. “If you can stay in the game, you get more confident and comfortable so it was good for us to come out and get some goals in the second. We were kind of stretched trying to go for the goals so it opened the game up and it went back and forth.
“It was a good game for us, [Attleboro] is a very good team that I think will do very well. I thought it was a good game for the boys, I was happy with how we played we just have to make some adjustments.”
But Attleboro was back level just a minute later. The Bombardiers earned a throw in the attacking third, and senior Josh Smith launched a toss to the six yard line. With the keeper coming out to play the ball, it was deflected to the back post and freshman Esvin Morales was all alone to nod the ball in to make it 2-2 in the 62nd minute.
“That was a good thing, we came back and we hung around,” said Attleboro head coach Peter Pereira. “After they scored, we came back, and we did it a second time so that was a positive. But they were a better team than we were today. Hopefully next time we are more organized and play our game. These were critical points.
“First half, [Oliver Ames] was all over us, they were playing their game. In the second half, we adjusted and were playing better balls to feet and we created some opportunities. A couple of mistakes cost us a couple of goals and their speed hurt us too. They have more experience and they have some depth that we don’t have.”
OA’s chances in the first half started early when Keane blasted a shot from in close off Milliken’s corner that had the keeper beat but Russo was positioned on the line to block his bid. Five minutes later, Louhis connected with Milliken open in the area and he tucked a header inside the post, but was ruled offside.
The best chance of the first half came in the 17th minute when Milliken labeled a free kick for the upper 90 but Attleboro keeper Zackary Brown made a terrific leaping one-handed stop to keep it out.
Keane saw another chance blocked by an Attleboro defender, this time Kevin Raczkowski came up with the goal line stop.
Attleboro had its best chance in the final 10 minutes of the opening half as a pass from Nathan LaPlume ended with a volley from Morales that forced OA keeper Drew Nickla to make a low diving stop to keep the game scoreless heading into the half.
The pain started more than a year ago. It came at night when she tried to lay down in bed, but then would disappear during the day, and through it all Oliver Ames senior Erin Holmberg kept playing club and high school soccer, outdoor track, and basketball. A new pillow seemed to help take some of the pressure off her neck and allowed her to get some sleep, but gradually the pain increased and then it started lingering through the day or starting in early evening.
In December 2018, the pain became unbearable. Erin couldn’t sleep. She continued coming to school everyday because she didn’t want to miss basketball practices or games, but there was growing numbness in her right arm, in her back, and partially in her legs. It was becoming difficult to do not only the intricate tasks of a basketball player, but even to function in the classroom.
Doctors assumed that it was just a muscular problem and recommended physical therapy and stretching. It was only when the Holmbergs visited Boston Children’s Hospital that a low-grade glioma (a brain tumor that can sometimes grow in the spinal cord) was discovered in Erin’s neck.
“Obviously I was shocked and I didn’t know how to react,” Erin said. “The first thing I said to the nurse was, ‘Is this thing growing inside me?’ The pain was unbearable, so it was relieving that they found it and that the pain would finally go away if they removed it.”
Erin’s father Bob added, “The ‘not knowing’ part of how Erin was going to come out of this surgery was the scariest. I’ve told people the only thing that kept us from totally losing it during those days prior to the surgery was: knowing we were in the best place in the world for this kind of stuff.”
Not only was the more than eight-hour surgery successful, but Dr. Edward Smith, the pediatric neurosurgeon who performed the procedure, told the Holmbergs that they removed 99 percent of the tumor. Now, just nine months after having surgery and far from being clear of all the effects that the tumor caused, Erin is back on the pitch with the Tigers and not just playing but excelling.
She has scored six goals in OA’s opening four games, including two goals apiece in the first two games of the season. OA coach Britt Sellmayer said, “It’s awesome to see how far she has come, especially with all the hard work she has put into her rehab. I think it is nothing short of a miracle.”
Erin, who returned to her club team, NEFC Breakers, just 10 weeks after the surgery, said, “Playing soccer almost made me forget that I went through the whole situation, and it’s still like that now where I’m not constantly thinking about my disability with my arm. It makes me forget that I went through it because I can still play soccer.”
Mystery pain leads to Children’s Hospital
The pain started in the spring of last year but became far more intense during the early part of the basketball season. OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook recalled that when the Tigers played Taunton (on Dec. 14), Erin didn’t look right in warm-ups but she was able to battle through the game. Afterwards, it was clear something was wrong and it only got worse over the next few days.
After several sleepless nights, Erin and her mother Paula went to Brockton Hospital but were told it was likely muscular and no MRI was given. “I couldn’t even stand being with my friends because of the pain,” Erin said. “I was just pacing the room, I couldn’t sit down because the pain was so bad, and my arm that night started to get more numb, which was a different symptom.”
On the advice of a family friend, the Holmbergs tried Children’s Hospital. According to Erin, they arrived in the middle of the night and were given an MRI just a few hours later. The results were explained to the family in the early evening. Bob said, “The initial diagnosis was very scary. They had to cut into her spinal cord, and try to remove as much of the tumor as possible.”
Spinal surgery is delicate and comes with inherent risk, but it was necessary. “I just wanted the pain to be over,” Erin admitted. Following surgery on Dec. 21, Erin was told that it was a success (“It was like a miracle,” Bob said) and that they were able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. “My dad came in and told me and that was the first time that I broke down into tears because I was so happy. That was the first time I cried, but it was tears of joy.”
Bob noted, “She had been an absolute rock throughout all of the scary meetings and diagnoses. Never breaking down, asking questions. Kind of like she is on the soccer field or basketball court: calm, cool and collected.”
Throughout the process, her friends and teammates from basketball and soccer showed support. Clement-Holbrook said that the Tigers got a video of Erin walking in the hospital a couple of days after the surgery and that a couple of players were able to see Erin to deliver stuffed animals that she could use to support her neck during recovery.
“One of the things I always talk about with my players is the value of sports and how someday they will be faced with a life changing moment,” Clement-Holbrook said. “It’s never a question of if, but a question of when. I told them that for Erin this was her when and that we needed to do everything in our power to help her recover and come back with us.”
Long path to recovery continues
The recovery process is ongoing. There are a number of symptoms remain, although there has been improvement. Physical and occupational therapy have improved the strength in Erin’s right arm, even if there is no definite prognosis for how long it could take the nerves to fully recover (if at all).
“I did teach myself how to write lefty because I couldn’t even hold a pencil,” Erin explained. “It was also hard sitting at school for long periods of time, so me and the nurse got very close.”
There are still nerve issues, such as tingling, numbness, and pain in her arm, back, and legs, but she continues to manage it and continues to push through both at school and in athletics. In fact, sports were a blessing in the recovery even when she could only watch from the sidelines.
“The basketball and soccer teams kept me sane because they’re all my best friends,” Erin said. “Coach Holbrook was like my mom during the whole thing. She was always checking up on me.”
As soon as she could, Erin was on the bench for the basketball team’s games, cheering the Tigers on during their playoff run. “Right when I got home I wanted to go to my basketball game and cheer them on,” she said. “I made sure to not make it about me. I wanted to be able to cheer them on and not have them feel bad for me all the time.”
Clement-Holbrook said, “The example that she set for all of us was powerful and inspirational to say the least. I credit her with our late run especially in the tournament because she would have done anything to be out there.”
Ten weeks after surgery, Erin was cleared to resume physical activities and she immediately jumped into club soccer. In her first game back, she scored a late goal to earn her team a draw. “My coach even said he was crying,” Erin said with a chuckle.
That form has continued for Oliver Ames this fall. Erin scored a brace in each of the first two games and in OA’s last game at North Attleboro she scored the opening goal of the afternoon (her sixth of the young season) and assisted on the other three OA goals. She has hit the ground running and has shown no signs of the struggles she has endured over the last year, even if symptoms still remain.
“I think my legs are still affected by it but I just don’t notice it as much,” she said. “The feeling is still vaguely off in my legs but it’s not noticeable so it doesn’t affect my running at all.”
Sellmayer said, “We knew the goals were going to come once we saw her in the preseason. All her fitness results were in the top three on the team. We were all just very happy for her and her family.” When asked if he thinks that Erin inspires her teammates, Sellmayer replied, “I feel Erin has been an inspiration to our whole community.”
Her family certainly appreciates being able to see her back on the pitch with her OA teammates and friends. Bob said, “Knowing what she has gone through and knowing that eight months ago, we didn’t know if she would ever play sports again, it kind of puts things into perspective. We are just happy that she is out there…Watching her be a teammate, co-captain and a leader, that’s what high school sports is all about, and we are just happy that she is still a part of it all.”
The recovery process will continue for a long time. Erin is still doing therapy to try and rebuild the strength in her right arm. There is still nerve pain, there is still numbness, and there are going to be numerous follow-up MRIs to keep an eye on the remaining tumor and make sure it isn’t growing.
This experience has given her a new appreciation for the games that she loves and cherishing each moment on the pitch or on the court.
“After I went through this and being told I could never play sports again I always say you never know how many more chances you get,” Erin reflected. “Even if you’re a junior, you never know what could happen, so you need to give everything, 100 percent.
“I’m very grateful that I am able to play and I’m going to give everything I have every day because you never know what can happen.”
By Lance Reynolds, HockomockSports.com Contributor
NORTH EASTON, Mass. — Oliver Ames was doing almost everything it needed to offensively.
For close to the entirety of Wednesday’s field hockey match against North Attleboro, the Tigers dominated possession time, closing in on the Rocketeer goal again and again.
Yet, when the final horn sounded, Oliver Ames had no goals to show for.
The Tigers never solved how they could get the ball around the North Attleboro backfield. Defender Emily Daby, middie Riley O’Brien, and goalie Emma Strachan continuously pestered Oliver Ames, poking the ball away and never allowing it into the Rocketeer goal, as North Attleboro grabbed a 1-0 shutout in a key, early-season Hockomock crossover game.
“Oliver Ames’ cross-passes were very strong,” said Rocketeers head coach Karen Folan. “So it was great that we could cut them off and get a stick on the ball.”
With Oliver Ames finding themselves in scrum after scrum near the North Attleboro goal in the first half, Folan knew she had to move some of her forwards and middies closer to the defensive end of the field.
The move paid dividends, not only did it allow the Rocketeers to hold the Tigers off the board, but it also allowed North Attleboro to have an aggressive offensive attack, whenever the Rocketeers had an opportunity.
In the 27th minute, North Attleboro forward Julia Puccio found herself breaking away from the Oliver Ames defense after the Rocketeers’ defense broke up a Tiger scrum in front of their goal. Puccio bolted down the field, passed the ball over to Olivia Luistro, and forward Lauren Abusheery successfully finished the sequence, rifling the ball into the Oliver Ames goal, as North Attleboro took a 1-0 lead late in the first half.
“Offensively, I was telling them to push up because OA had a lot of possession and were dominating on offense,” Folan said. “But once we got it past them, there wasn’t a whole lot of defense back there. We definitely took advantage, passed the ball around a little bit, and got the nice angle on the shot for Lauren Abusheery.”
Oliver Ames relentlessly tried to find a way to figure out the Rocketeers defense, and it took all of the final 30 minutes of the match for North Attleboro to make sure they were going to hold onto their 1-0 lead.
In the 39th minute, Tiger forward Cassie Gennis mercifully ripped a shot after an Oliver Ames corner, but Daby was in the right place at the right time, stopping the ball from going past Strachan and into the Rocketeer net.
A few minutes later, the Tigers had several scoring chances when they battled in a scrum, once again, in front of the North Attleboro goal after a corner, but O’Brien got a piece of her stick on the ball to break it up, as Oliver Ames once again failed to generate a score.
In the final minute of play, Oliver Ames forward Lily Gaskill had the last opportunity for the Tigers to strike even with the Rocketeers, but her shot went wide of Strachan, who finished with 19 saves, and past the North Attleboro goal.
“We’ve been working on stopping the ball and carrying it out,” Folan said. “We did a really great job of doing that today instead of stopping it and not finishing it. We’ve been really working on it and it definitely showed today.”
It’s just one win and it’s still early in the season, but after the Rocketeers fell just four points short of advancing to the tournament last year, Folan admitted that the early season games are, perhaps, the most meaningful for North Attleboro’s postseason chances.
“We have the mindset thinking that this is the point we need to make tournament,” Folan said. “Because we’ve been getting to the end of the season where we need just that one point and we’re not getting it, so even though it’s September, we’re thinking that this is the point that we need to make it to the tournament. This is really going to make a difference.”
North Attleboro (2-1) looks to keep the winning spirits alive when they host Sharon next Monday while Oliver Ames (1-2) looks to get back into the win column Saturday when they travel to West Bridgewater.