Sometimes, it is better late than never and the UNH field hockey team has found its stride. After the thrilling victory against Albany last weekend, the team returned home for two games this weekend and defended Durham.
On Friday, the Wildcats took down the University of Vermont Catamounts for the second time this season by a score of 3-1. Although they let up the first goal and trailed at halftime, the ‘Cats scored three unanswered goals to punch their ticket to the America East championship tournament.
Kayla Sliz led the rally after she snuck in a rebound coming off a corner past goalkeeper Lena Benwood to tie the score 1-1. It was her second goal of the season. Ashley Mendonca continued carrying the momentum when she scored her 11th goal of the season off a corner. Lindsey Nerbonne also scored off a corner to extend the lead to 3-1. The victory gave them their first consecutive win streak of the season.
“It was an awesome feeling working for it all half. A lot of shots and opportunities. Felt great to get one of those corners in,” Sliz said.
The playoff-clinching victory improved their winning streak against Vermont to 11 consecutive wins.
On Sunday, the Wildcats extended their winning streak to three games after beating the UMass Lowell River Hawks 2-1. Led by Gianna Bensaia’s first goal of the season and Aggie Sutherland’s game winner in the second half, the Wildcats improved playoff positioning with only two games left. This marked the first three-game win streak since 2014.
Bensaia got going early when she redirected a ball inside the 25-yard line from Mendonca and into the back of the cage. It was a momentum shift as all season, the Wildcats have struggled to score first.
“It is so exciting. I was not even thinking about scoring. My first thought was how we were playing and Ashley sent in a great ball. I was excited we put a goal in the first five,” Bensaia said.
After the early 1-0 lead, the game was nip and tuck for most of the first half. Freshman goalkeeper Eva Berkhout had to leave due to injury, but junior backup Kelsey Federico did her job to keep the River Hawks in it. The Wildcats had more shots on net (10-2) and corners (2-0) going into the half.
The River Hawks were able to capitalize in the second half after blocking a big corner and leading a rush the other way for the score. Racing down the middle of the field on the block by Brooke Roberts, Anouk Lalande passed the ball to Kristin Aveni who buried it under the crossbar.
After a few Federico saves off corners, the Wildcats took the lead at 57:52. Sutherland set up the corner that was sent on over to Nerbonne who took the initial shot, but it was deflected by the Lowell defense. The bouncing ball landed near Sutherland’s stick on the near side and she jammed it in for the go-ahead goal.
The River Hawks had a golden opportunity on their only corner of the game at the 63-minute mark, but the Wildcats clamped down and with help from Kelsey Rudert, who had three saves in the second half, the team went on to win 2-1.
“We are timing it well. We are now trending where we need to be heading towards the end of the season,” head coach Robin Balducci said. “Strength in our upperclassmen is better than most.”
The Wildcats will travel to take on the University of Maine this Friday, Oct. 28 and then wrap up the regular season Sunday, Oct. 30 against in-state rival Dartmouth College at Memorial Field.