Field hockey showdown: Round 1 goes to the Lakers, 1-0
By Wayne E. Rivet
FRYEBURG — In tightly-contested games, scoring chances can be few and far between.
When Lake Region’s Meghan Skarbinski fired a drive just wide of an open Fryeburg Academy net with 19:25 left in regulation, she hoped for another chance.
Luckily for the junior winger, she was in the right place at the right time and kept the Lakers’ undefeated string alive.
Off a penalty corner situation, sophomore Abby Scott-Mitchell centered the ball across the Raider goal area and Skarbinski deflected a drive to beat FA goalie Sage Antolin to her left with 7:56 left as Lake Region captured a 1-0 victory in Fryeburg last Wednesday.
It was the first time in history that the two rivals entered a late-season game both undefeated and ranked 1-2 in the Class B West Heal Ratings.
As expected, the game was intense. It was physical at times. And, both defenses rose to the occasion to put the brakes on quick, potent offenses.
The difference maker was LR sophomore goalie Meghan VanLoan, who kept the Raiders off the board by recording eight saves, including a waist-high deflection off the stick of Raider Skye Dole with 14:37 left in the contest.
VanLoan was aggressive all day, and rarely gave the Raiders second shot opportunities. Despite limited action during the season, VanLoan consistently came up big with the game’s outcome on the line.
“I felt pretty confident. I was pretty excited because I knew there would be a lot of action,” she said. “At first, I really get nervous, but after a couple of saves, I really get into it. I know we can do this — we can definitely do this.”
VanLoan admitted she had a “scary moment” when she dove to make a stop and lost track of the ball. But, the LR defense quickly moved the ball out of the scoring circle.
“We have a really good back line and our sweeper is very good. Kayla Reinhard really bailed me out at times today. When I am out on a corner, she is always backing me up,” VanLoan said. “We knew this was going to be one of our toughest battles so we stayed strong and if we did something bad, we had to get it out of our minds and recover and go to the next play.”
Unlike many goalies, who rely strictly on their feet to kick balls away, VanLoan made good use of her stick, often deflecting crossing passes in front of the goal mouth.
“I think using your stick can be an advantage because if your feet can’t get over to the ball, you have the opportunity to knock the ball away with your stick,” she said.
VanLoan believes the reasons the Lakers have been so successful — 11-0 and ranked Number 1 — is due to the intensity players bring to the field every day — be it practice or in big games — as well as the leadership shown by the seniors.
“Our seniors are so encouraging. They really keep us on our game,” she said.
Big game, big efforts
Sometimes, hype can sidetrack players.
Last Wednesday, two undefeated teams played like two of the best clubs in the West. Each produced quality scoring chances, and players went full tilt from start to finish.
Both coaches appreciated what their players brought to the field.
“This was a good one for us. The message coming into this game was the same with every game — play the way we play, play as a team, and be persistent,” Lake Region Coach Lisa Shane said. “When a team tries to get rough, you need to let that part go and do your job. Fryeburg always comes in with rough, aggressive play. It’s always tough to know how our girls will respond to it. We had to suck up a few tears, but they worked through it and I am very proud of them.”
Prior to the big showdown, Shane had seen the Raiders play and made some defensive adjustments. She felt junior defender Casey Heath played a big role in keeping the Raiders scoreless. Heath was frequently matched up against Raider sophomore Skye Dole, who is the starting center for the FA girls’ basketball team and has been on a scoring rampage over the past few weeks.
“We talked about their strong wing on the left side and how we would defend her. Casey (Heath) did a great job reading her and covering her. It was a tough size match-up (with FA’s Skye Dole), and even though Casey got knocked down several times, she always got right back up and got her stick right back on the ball in a few seconds. I loved her persistence,” Coach Shane said.
Shane also spoke highly about her sophomore goalie.
“Our forwards stayed later the day before and just kept shooting on Meghan to keep her busy and for her to understand the endurance she would need. She was fantastic today,” the coach said.
Shane credited a tough Raider wall in front of the goal from keeping the high-scoring Lakers to a single goal.
“They front load and make some walls, and we simply didn’t swing it quick enough to get those bursts to the cage,” Coach Shane said.
But, LR managed to find a crack in the wall resulting in the Skarbinski goal.
“Meghan is one of those aggressive players who will fight for the ball in front of the cage. She’s not afraid to go up against any goalie that is in front of her,” Coach Shane said.
Even though leading scorer Lucy Fowler was somewhat stymied in the shooting department, Coach Shane likes what the junior forward is doing.
“Lucy understands her leadership is as important as her scoring. Her ability to move the defense is huge,” Coach Shane said. “She is figuring out how to get to open spaces quickly.”
Meanwhile, Fryeburg Academy Coach Dede Frost took the team’s first loss in stride.
“I honestly felt both teams played really well. I didn’t feel the loss had anything to do with something we did wrong or didn’t capitalize on. Statistically, we should have come out on top, but that’s how things go sometimes. We had plenty of opportunities to score (24 shots), and we had the ball there (in the Lake Region end) many times (FA had a 6 to 3 penalty corner advantage), we just couldn’t put the ball in the goal. Unfortunately, both teams weren’t going to leave here undefeated,” Coach Frost said. “I really felt it was two great teams out there. My only disappointment was that today was the day to do it (get a win), being at home. We just didn’t finish. Their goalie had eight saves, but I felt their defenders did a great job stopping the ball.”
Frost was pleased to see that the hype surrounding two undefeated teams clashing for the top ranking did not result in her players becoming too nervous to play their type of game.
“Both teams did a lot of things right. I wasn’t disappointed with the kids because I thought they really played well. I thought it could have gone either way — that’s what happens when you get good competition,” Coach Frost said.
One isn’t, anymore.
What does it really mean?
“We are always saying ‘what do we need to learn today?’ and not worrying about being undefeated. We ask ourselves, ‘How do we fix what didn’t go well?’ We’re fine-tuning now. It doesn’t matter what our record is, we know we need to keep getting better,” Coach Shane said. “They have high expectations for themselves, they know they aren’t done learning, and they realize on any given day they could lose. We’re always throwing something new at them to keep it fresh and to keep learning.”
As a former player and now a head coach, Shane knows a loss could come at any time.
“We’re due for one of those nothing is working day. I tell them, ‘The harder we work, they luckier we’ll be.’ But, even though you work hard, you can still be beat on any given day,” she said. “We just try to keep it real. They’re good about it. I’m proud of them.”
FA Coach Frost likes the idea that the Raiders and Lakers are both on top, at the moment.
“It’s nice that two teams up here in Stickville are 1-2. It adds to the fan base and makes field hockey come to the forefront which is exciting,” she said.
Plenty of work remains before the playoffs arrive. Tight games like last Wednesday’s outing is a good way to get a team ready for the tournament, which Frost expects to be very competitive with a number of teams capable of claiming the West crown.
“For us, the competition is great this year. The fact we’re 8-1 is truly phenomenal because we’ve had to play every game hard and well to win. There have been few freebies. We have not been able to sit back and relax against anyone. There isn’t a lot of rest for us,” she said. “Right now, we just need to fine tune the rough edges. We have the basics down. We don’t do a lot of fancy things. We tend to be very basic, but I wouldn’t change that. I like the way we play — very fundamental, but it works for us. I am pleased with what we’ve done.”
Coach Frost likes how her team has handled the pressures to date.
“When the wins are expected, it’s a lot harder. We’ve really had to work hard, which has made us better. We’ve been able to hang in there and play well against the top teams. We still have a ways to go. Our goal is to make the playoffs. Our goal at the beginning of the season wasn’t to go undefeated. It was a blessing while it lasted. I would have thought that would have been unrealistic. Being playoff bound, that’s realistic. We’ll see what happens,” she said.
Round 2 between the Lakers and Raiders is Tuesday in Naples at 3:30 p.m. Expect another classic.
For the Lakers, the regular season closes out with big games against York on Friday, Oct. 5 at either 3:30 or 4 p.m. (the game was originally scheduled for Thursday, but due to rain was rescheduled) and then the rematch with Fryeburg Academy on Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 3:30 p.m.
After the big win, Lake Region didn’t fall victim to a letdown as Lucy Fowler and Elizabeth Schreiber each scored in a 2-0 victory over Yarmouth. Fowler followed that effort with a four-goal game in a 10-0 victory over winless Gray-New Gloucester to improve to 12-0. Sophomore Abby Scott-Mitchell connected for three goals while Tori Girardin had two goals and Mackenzie Mondville had one goal.
For the Raiders, FA travels to Gray-New Gloucester today, Oct. 4, for a 3:30 p.m. game and close out at Lake Region.
Fryeburg bounced back from their loss with a 3-1 win over Falmouth. Skye Dole and Kylie Locke each scored first half goals, assisted by Kendra Fox. Emily Davidson added a goal in the second half, assisted by Makayla Frost.
The Raiders, however, stumbled against Cape Elizabeth Wednesday, falling 3-0 to fall to 10-2.