It took grit and determination for the UNH Wildcats field hockey team to go into Albany, New York and upend the No.17 Great Danes on Sunday, Oct. 16, and they did just that, beating the Great Danes by a 2-1 final.
Ashley Mendonca scored twice to lead the ‘Cats while Kelsey Rudert had a career day with nine saves to keep the Great Danes in check. Albany came into Durham a couple weeks ago and won, but head coach Robin Balducci saw something in her team that was showcased on Sunday.
“We felt like that game was closer than the score showed and we got some confidence from that. Also, losing to Maine in overtime and the comeback we put forth in that one really gave us confidence going into [Sunday’s game],” head coach Robin Balducci said. “This confidence, our gameplan, and believing in [us] helped.”
UNH improved to 4-10 overall on the season and 2-3 in America East play while giving the Great Danes their first loss in conference play and at home. For Albany, it fell to 10-5 overall and 4-1 in America East.
The Great Danes struck first at 14:49 in the first half when Paula Heuser dribbled right through the middle and took a shot that bounced in the back of the net.
Going into the half trailing by one and losing the advantage in shots 11-4 was something that Balducci said did not throw off the team. Instead, it inspired them to play better in the 2nd half.
“We really neutralized them in the first half and we felt like we did not do anything special trailing 1-0 into halftime. That raised some confidence to improve in the second half,” Balducci said.
Improvements were made and it led to Mendonca converting on a corner opportunity early in the second half. At 37:55, Katie Audino set up a great ball to Gianna Bensaia who placed it for Mendonca who shot it past goalkeeper Maxi Primmus.
“Scoring two on corners was really important. Ashley scored on Friday as well so it was a great weekend for her. They believed in themselves even with the 1-1 game. We kept attacking, ” Balducci said.
Tied 1-1 and with only fifteen minutes remaining, it seemed the Wildcats were losing the fight at least on paper. Rudert was endlessly peppered by the Great Dane offense and statistically, the Great Danes had more shots on goal (16-7) and corners (5-2). Yet, the ‘Cats stayed with it and finally capitalized on a golden opportunity.
With only 1:48 remaining in regulation, overtime seemed destined, but Mendonca had other plans. She crept up towards the top of the circle waiting for the corner play and fired a shot that found the back of the cage. The Wildcats had a 2-1 lead late and with Rudert having a career day, the team held off a late surge by the Great Danes and won 2-1.
“Excited we were able to hold them. [Rudert] played great,” Balducci said who was very happy with the team following the big win. “It was the first time we really beat Albany out in Albany.”
The Wildcats were outshot 20-8 and had less corners (6-3), but still played all seventy minutes to get a much needed victory over a tough opponent, and reigning America East champion.
Scratching and clawing all year long has propelled the ‘Cats into this situation and with a win like this, there is no question the team feels good. It was a statement.
“I think we are rolling a little bit. We feel good about the last couple weeks especially in who we have played like Friday night in [No. 13 Boston College]. We were out-stating people, but not finishing and now we are capitalizing on opportunities so hopefully the tide is turning a little bit and momentum is building. It is a good time of year for that to happen.” she said.
The Wildcats have been on the short end of the one-goal games in each of their last four matchups. Today, they finally got over the hump. From top to bottom this weekend can be looked at as the turning point in the season. Although, UNH lost on Friday to the Eagles 2-1, they turned the page quickly and knocked off a talented Albany team.
The Wildcats look to keep the ball rolling as they take on Vermont Oct. 21, and UMass-Lowell Oct. 23 this coming weekend here in Durham.