By Nick Curcuru Sports Editor
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — It was one of the Manchester Essex field hockey team’s most thrilling victories of the 2011 season.
The Hornets battled Division 2 North First round opponent Swampscott to a near stalemate over the first 59 minutes of play at Blocksidge Field in Swampscott. But with just over a minute to go in the contest, Manchester Essex midfielder Megan Jones broke a 2-2 tie scoring a goal off a corner opportunity and sending the Hornets into the Quarter Finals with a win in a game that truly could have gone either way.
Tonight is the rematch as No. 2 Manchester Essex (17-1-1) will meet No. 3 Swampscott (16-2-2) tonight in the Division 2 North Semi Finals at Reading High School (5:30 p.m.) and the stakes are even higher this time around.
The winner of tonight’s contest will move on to the Division 2 North Final to square off against the winner of No. 1 Watertown and No. 5 Winchester this weekend at North Andover High School.
Tonight’s semi final tilt will mark the third straight season the Hornets and Big Blue have met in the Division 2 North State Tournament as Manchester Essex picked up a 7-0 win over Swampscott in the Division 2 North First Round in 2010.
The two teams enter the semi finals with similar rosters to 2011, meaning another closely contested game could be in the works.
“It’s never been an easy match against Swampscott, anything can happen in the tournament and we know Swampscott will fight to the end,” Hornets head coach Andrea Slaven said. “We got them on the road last year and we beat them at home two years ago. This time it’s on a neutral site and it should be another tough game.”
Both teams come into the Semi Finals fresh off the heels of impressive yet tough Quarter Final wins. It took Swampscott overtime to dispatch No. 6 Bishop Fenwick, and while Manchester Essex topped Lynnfield 4-1, a team that beat Swampscott 3-0 in regular season play, in its Quarter Final game, it was a much tougher contest then the score would indicate.
Both teams appear to be carbon copies of one another when it comes to style of play as both are led by a stingy defense. This season the Cape Ann League Small champion Hornets have recorded 10 shutouts, Swampscott, on the other hand, has recorded 13 shutouts on the season en route to a second place finish in the Northeastern Conference, just one point behind champion Beverly, a .
“(Swampscott) has a lot of strong players all over the field,” Slaven said. “They have some strong kids returning. But we can’t worry about what they do, we are worrying about what we do and improving on our last performance.”
With the state tournament in full swing Manchester Essex as tweaked its practice itinerary focusing on individual positions. With the offense and defense practicing separately, the Hornets are looking to excel at the little things and execute a polished game plan.
“We’ve been isolating the offense and defense to really get in depth in our game plans,” Slaven said. “We are working on the little things and at the end of practice we put it all together.”
If the Hornets put it all together on Thursday the way they have down the stretch and in the tournament, they will be looking at a spot in the sectional final.
At a Glance Who: No. 2 Manchester Essex (17-1-1) vs. No. 3 Swampscott (16-2-2) What: Division 2 North Semi Final When: Tonight (5:30 p.m.) Where: Reading High School What's at Stake: The winner earns a trip to the Division 2 North Final this weekend where it will take on the winner of No. 1 Watertown and No. 5 Winchester. Did You Know: Manchester Essex has qualified for the Division 2 North Semi Final nine out of the last 10 seasons.