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Weather no match for Bears in prelim victory over Littleton

Winnisquam knocks off Littleton before falling to Derryfield in quarters

Winnisquam’s Rachel Willcutt battles for position with a Littleton defender during the Bears’ 3-0 win on Oct. 19. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
October 24, 2011
TILTON – If you're looking for the definition of fall playoff weather, look no further than Winnisquam Regional High School's preliminary round game with Littleton on Oct. 19.

Steady rain, wind and chilly temperatures forced a delayed start of over 20 minutes while Winnisquam athletic director Rick Hinck and others worked on the quickly-deteriorating field, but in the end the Lady Bears overcame the elements and earned the victory, as the field hockey team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division III tournament with a 3-0 win.

"It was definitely a lot harder (because of the weather) but I think it made us push harder to win," said Winnisquam's Taylor O'Connor, who had a hand in all three goals. "It was hard to keep your ground but we were able to stick through it."

The biggest obstacles on the field were the circles in front of the goals, as sand was put down to combat the increasingly muddy areas.

"It was definitely a hard position to have to try and play in," said Winnisquam coach Cherie Snow. "Once we got our circles situated, that made the field a little better."

While the forecast called for rain throughout the day, it didn't start coming down until shortly before the scheduled 3:30 p.m. start time.

"It didn't start raining until we came onto the field (for warm-ups)," said O'Connor. "It was muddy but it helped a lot putting that sand down. But as you could see, everyone was still slipping out there."

Seventh-seeded Winnisquam struggled out of the gates, as number 10 Littleton controlled play in the game's first 10 minutes. Bears' goalkeeper Bree Campbell made a big early save on Littleton sniper Aleigha Lantagne to keep the game scoreless though, and Winnisquam began shaking off the early rust.

O'Connor gave her team the spark they needed in the 18th minute, as the Bears earned a penalty corner. The ball popped out after the initial corner, but Erin McNamara sent it back into the circle, and Katie Bungay kept it going through to a well-positioned O'Connor. She did the rest, burying a shot into the back of the cage to give Winnisquam a 1-0 advantage.

"I think if it wasn't raining and wet and cold, I think our game play would've been stronger and we would've come out stronger in the beginning," said Snow. "Having the delay hindered everyone a little bit too, I think. The girls were all freezing and just kind of waiting to play."

The pressure intensified from the Bears after the first goal, and Kaylee Howard fed a dangerous ball into the circle just before halftime. Littleton goalkeeper Kirsten Wilson turned away a deflection from O'Connor however, and Winnisquam settled for the 1-0 halftime advantage.

Like they have all season, the Bears picked up their game in the second half. Thanks to back-to-back goal-saving plays from Hannah Willcutt and Bungay on defense, Winnisquam's offense was able to put the game out of reach. With just over five minutes left in regulation, O'Connor's cross got through traffic and past a charging Wilson in net. MacKenzie Byers was waiting for it on the back post, and she swept the ball into an open net to give the Bears some insurance and a 2-0 lead.

"The first half we usually struggle and the second half is where we tend to play our best," admitted O'Connor. "We just wanted it because we knew if we lost, we'd be out."

Snow knew the second tally was a big one.

"Once we got that second goal, I was breathing a little easier," she said.

O'Connor, Winnisquam's leading scorer, closed out the scoring with just under two minutes to play, as she took a pass from McNamara and beat Wilson for her second goal of the afternoon and the 3-0 Winnisquam win.

"(O'Connor) struggled a bit in the beginning of the game but I talked to her a little bit and then she really turned it around in the second half," said Snow. "I was very pleased with her."

Overshadowed in the victory was the Winnisquam defense, as the Bears pitched a shutout despite dealing with the adverse weather conditions.

"Our defense came up strong which is a huge plus," said Snow. "That was one of our goals, to come up with a shutout."

Campbell made four saves to pick up the shutout, while Winnisquam held a 7-4 advantage in penalty corners.

The Bears' season came to an unfortunate close three days later however, as visiting Winnisquam dropped a tough 1-0 contest at second-seeded Derryfield School in the quarterfinals on Oct. 22.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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