By Conor Walsh Correspondent
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — MANCHESTER — There are obvious advantages that come with a first-round bye in the state tournament.
But for the Manchester Essex field hockey team, the rust that developed during the Hornets’ eight-day break prior to Saturday’s Division 2 North quarterfinal matchup with Lynnfield initially outweighed the benefits of their lengthy time off.
After a sluggish first half, though, the No. 2 seed Hornets turned it on, scoring three goals in less than five minutes midway through the second half to pull away from the Pioneers and move on to the Division 2 North semifinals with a decisive 4-0 victory.
“Even though we were seeded higher, I think we had a disadvantage because we didn’t have a game under our belts coming into this second round,” Hornets coach Andrea Slaven said after the game. “We just had to get into the swing of the game speed. I think that’s what was tough for us in the first half, but in the second half we decided that it’s anyone’s game still. We just have to make sure that we understand that this is a totally separate season from the regular season and that we’re coming in at 0-0.”
Any staleness on the Hornets’ part took some time to shine through. The Hornets fed off the crowd at Hyland Field and came flying out of the gates, putting the Pioneers on their heels when senior captain Kelsi Field ended a lengthy possession with the Hornets’ first goal less than five minutes into the game.
But No. 7 seed Lynnfield — which had beaten No. 10 Pentucket, 4-1, in the first round — made it clear it wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
During the regular season, the Pioneers played the Hornets tight twice, dropping each meeting by one goal.
And throughout the first half, they weren’t far off. While the Hornets allowed Lynnfield just one shot on goal, the Pioneers pinned Manchester Essex in its defensive end for much of the first half.
“I think that happens in all sports,” Slaven said of the team’s letdown after Field’s early goal. “It’s like, ‘Great, we can score.’ But then you get very comfortable and you’re not as motivated to keep going. I think we did lose the momentum there, especially toward the end of the first half.”
Once the Hornets came back from halftime, though, it was obvious that sluggish first half was an anomaly. The Hornets turned up the pressure, and when Field converted a Brittany Smith pass for her second goal of the day with 16 minutes to play, the floodgates were opened.
Minutes later, Field completed her hat trick, again on a feed from Smith, and 58 seconds later, Megan Jones gave the Hornets a commanding 4-0 lead.
By the time Slaven was able to empty her bench to ride out the final minutes of the shutout victory, the Hornets’ subpar first half was a distant memory.
“I think we really came together in the second half,” Slaven said. “We reiterated that we’re starting at 0-0 and we picked out three goals to achieve in the second half: scoring, playing together and communicating. All of those things were accomplished.”
The win pushed the Hornets to the Division 2 North semifinals, where they’ll take on No. 3 seed Swampscott at Reading High School. In the first round of last season’s state tournament, the Hornets stunned the Big Blue with a dramatic last-minute goal.
The date and time of the rematch have yet to be determined.
After working the kinks out of their game on Saturday, though, expect the Hornets to be running on all cylinders when they meet Swampscott.
“We’ve played them twice in my three years coaching here,” Slaven said. “We’ve beaten them both times. We’ve either killed them or it’s been a very close game. They work super, super hard. I think now that we’ve got a game under our belts, our confidence is building back up.”