By ANDREW YOURELL
The UNH field hockey team returned home for a doubleheader, starting on Friday with a 2-1 win over the Providence Friars. On Saturday, in the team’s first conference matchup of the season, the Wildcats stymied the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks en route to another 2-1 victory. The wins raise UNH’s record to 4-5 (1-0, America East) on the season.
Junior Lindsey Nerbonne tallied a goal in each game. Gianna Bensaia scored the second goal in the matchup with Providence, while senior captain Meg Flatley scored the opening goal in the UMass-Lowell game.
“In practice, we’re really pushing each other to just be scrappy in the circle,” Nerbonne said. Scrappy was the perfect word for her goal against the Friars. Nerbonne took a pass in the circle, but was challenged immediately by the Providence goalie, who knocked the ball away. Before defenders could grab the ball away, Nerbonne dove, smacking the ball into the empty net.
“An effort goal,” head coach Robin Balducci said. “Big time.”
Nerbonne’s goal was followed in the Providence game by a penalty corner. Flatley passed the ball in to Bensaia, who passed it off to Jackie Hozza. Hozza returned the ball to Bensaia, who fired a rocket to put the ‘Cats up 2-0, with just over 26 minutes to play.
The Friars responded with a penalty corner goal of their own. UNH goalkeeper Melissa Rize stopped the Friars’ initial shot, but a rebound bounced up in the air, and was slapped over her outstretched blocker to make the game 2-1. But Rize and the defense wouldn’t allow another goal in the contest.
The penalty corners were an issue Balducci saw with her team in both games.
“We had so much possession time and we didn’t really generate enough scoring,” she said. “We didn’t really work to get corner calls. And I think we’ve gotten away from that a little bit over the weekend, instead of keeping it a little bit more simple.”
The team also allowed too many penalty corners for Providence and UMass-Lowell, according to Balducci. Fortunately for the team, Rize, a sophomore in her first year as a starter, has been a consistent force in net for the ‘Cats.
“She’s really coming on,” Balducci said. “I’m excited for her because she really has been stepping up, making some great plays, coming up with some big plays, and you know, all we really were looking for her to do was make some of the routine saves.”
In the UMass-Lowell game, it was Flatley who got the scoring started just four minutes into the game. Flatley used her speed to get the ball in close, before using Nerbonne as an outlet. Nerbonne’s initial shot was blocked, but Flatley was in position to grab the ball and shoot it past UMass-Lowell’s Kelsey Federico.
Not even two minutes later, Nerbonne took a pass in the circle and fired off a shot of her own at Federico. Federico made the initial save, but, once again, the rebound was recovered by a UNH player. Nerbonne took her own rebound and redirected the shot in to put UNH up 2-1.
The Wildcats went into the half with a 2-0 lead on account of a 9-4 shot advantage. But in the second half, it took almost 20 minutes for the ‘Cats to record their 10th shot.
The Riverhawks took a penalty corner and brought themselves to within one, but UNH’s offense once again found its stride, rattling of eight more shots in the contest to end with a 17-11 shot advantage.
“I think we hit a lull,” Balducci said of the slow start to the second half. “It’s a cool day but it’s hot on the turf. We have a core of group players that log a lot of minutes.”
The Wildcats look to extend their winning streak when they travel to play the No. 5-ranked University at Albany on Sunday, Oct. 4.
‘Cats prevent Riverhawks from taking flight
By ANDREW YOURELL