By Greg Laudani, Staff Writer
Senior Meg Flatley scored two goals to lead the UNH field hockey team to a 4-1 win against in-state rival Dartmouth College on Senior Day on Sunday, Nov. 2, at Memorial Field.
The Wildcats (8-11, 4-1 AE) raced to a 3-0 lead by the end of the first half after goals by Flatley (3:25), junior Lynne Lehman (33:10) and sophomore Lindsey Nerbonne (35:00). UNH’s fast start established momentum in its favor and gave the team an early spark of offense it was searching for.
“It’s definitely a benefit going up early because it changes the whole momentum of the game,” Flatley said. “We can relax being able to know that we have that lead and even if they get one, we’re still up.”
After UNH’s dominant first half in which the ‘Cats outshot the Big Green 16-2, Dartmouth (5-11, 3-3) came out with fire early in the second. Dartmouth freshman Julia Donald buried a rebound opportunity in front of the ‘Cats’ net at 37:04 to tighten the score to 3-1 UNH.
It seemed at that moment that although the Wildcats’ had controlled the game up until this point, Dartmouth had seized some momentum. Somehow, despite being outshot by such a large margin, the Big Green found a way to get back in it with Donald’s goal.
Flatley quickly put an end to Dartmouth’s momentum and helped UNH stay ahead. At 42:01, she deflected a shot by Nerbonne into the back of the net. The goal regained UNH’s comfortable three-goal advantage at 4-1.
Flatley spoke about her team’s ability to rebound after allowing an early second-half goal.
“We had been holding the momentum so well and had been in the offensive zone the majority of the time, so it was one of those things where we knew we had to get another one to keep that momentum going,” Flatley said. “It was an entire team effort of getting the ball in their zone and continue attacking.”
Flatley’s positioning on the goal was a perfect example of UNH consistently being in the right place at the right time. Following the win, senior Kellie Joyce said that her team’s anticipation, like on Flatley’s deflection, is how the Wildcats generated 21 shots on net compared to 11 for Dartmouth.
“I think we communicated and everyone was quick to think ahead of the ball,” Joyce said. “People were always in the right positions, cutting to the right spots and cutting early.”
On the defensive side, senior goalie Carlie Tarbell credited the Wildcats’ consistent ball pressure in their limiting of Dartmouth’s scoring chances.
“Today we brought out the best in each other and had an incredible work ethic,” Tarbell said. “Fighting for every 50-50 ball was really what got us through defensively. And that’s something that happened all 70 minutes, no matter if it was the starters or people coming off the bench.”
UNH honored its three seniors in Tarbell, Joyce and Maegan Grew before Sunday’s Senior Day game. And following the win, Joyce, who had two assists against Dartmouth, spoke about her bittersweet emotions after playing her final regular season game at Memorial Field.
“I don’t know if it’s exactly hit me yet,” Joyce said. “It’s really sad. But there’s nothing better than a win on Senior Day. This wasn’t the best weather we could have asked for, but the team really put together a great win and that means a lot to me. It was a great way to finish off a great four years.”
The Wildcats knew prior to Sunday’s game that they earned a spot in the America East semifinals against the University of Maine on Thursday, Nov. 6, at the University at Albany. They earned this spot after defeating Maine, 3-2, on Oct. 31 to secure the conference’s second seed.
UNH head coach Robin Balducci said she was proud of her team’s unwillingness to look past Dartmouth despite already being locked into the tournament.
“This was a tough game to play after playing Maine on Friday and being so focused on the tournament,” Balducci said. “It’s a tough one for them to be motivated for and stay focused. So I was very proud of them that they stayed the task and really stayed focus on the game. It’s an important one. Everybody wants to make sure they send their seniors out the right way.”
“I thought we played very well against them,” Balducci said. “We were able to play our game, move the ball and do the things we wanted to do. And so I think we feel comfortable.”
Balducci said her team is confident, but not too confident. UNH and Maine play each other annually as America East rivals. UNH’s coach pointed out that her team’s familiarity with Maine will not allow the ‘Cats to be overconfident going into the semifinal matchup.
“We won’t be comfortable to the point where we won’t be focused enough,” Balducci said. “We know how explosive they are and how dangerous they can be.”
A tournament championship would be UNH’s second consecutive and third in the last four seasons. Flatley understands the challenge Maine presents. But she also spoke with optimism about her team’s chance at securing back-to-back titles.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Flatley said. “It’s tournament time. We’re defending champions, and I think we can do it.”