PORTLAND—A year ago, the upstart Cheverus field hockey program stunned undefeated Sanford in the playoffs.
Monday afternoon, the Stags dispatched the Redskins again, announcing once and for all that they are a legitimate threat to win it all in 2009.
After four easy wins, Cheverus got its first serious test, riding two first half goals from junior Emily Sawchuck to a halftime lead, then relying on its defense to hold on for a 2-1 victory.
“It’s really exciting,” Sawchuck said. “They’re our rivals since we shut them down last year.”
Good times continue
The Cheverus program is only in its fifth varsity season, but the Stags have already enjoyed plenty of success. Two years ago, Cheverus won a playoff game for the first time. Last season, the Stags posted a winning record, won at Windham in the preliminary round, then shocked Sanford in the quarterfinals before dropping a heartbreaker in overtime at Westbrook in the semis.
This autumn, Cheverus has excelled. The Stags beat visiting Deering 4-0 in their first outing, won 3-0 at Kennebunk, 6-1 over visiting Massabesic, then enjoyed a 7-1 triumph at Noble Saturday in the rain.
Sanford, meanwhile, won its first three games (over South Portland, Westbrook and Biddeford) by a 13-3 margin.
Monday’s game featured plenty of back-and-forth action.
The Stags had the first good scoring chance in the sixth minute, but sophomore Sarah LaQuerre’s shot was denied by Sanford senior goalie Emily Downing. The next Cheverus shot was true, however, as Sawchuck took a long pass from LaQuerre, dribbled in and fired a blast past Downing at the 20:52 mark for a 1-0 lead.
Sanford drew even with 12:18 to go in the first half. Senior Krystal Walsh took a pass from senior Carly DeSimone and sent a shot past Stags senior goalie Audrey Grinnell to make it 1-1.
Cheverus kept the pressure on late in the half and was eventually rewarded.
With 8:40 to go, LaQuerre’s rush was broken up, setting up the hosts’ first penalty corner. That resulted in a Sawchuck shot, but it was saved by Downing.
Then, with 4:21 left, the Stags went ahead to stay.
Senior Maggie Grindatti, who was all over the field as usual, despite playing with a broken finger, sent a long shot toward the goal and Sawchuck deflected it high. Downing managed to get a glove on it, but it bounced into the cage to make it 2-1 Cheverus.
“I deflected it in,” said Sawchuck. “I knew I had to keep my stick down at all times. The ball came to me. There aren’t many goals like that.”
The Stags had a 6-3 advantage in penalty corners in the first half.
The second stanza didn’t feature as much action, but there were chances for both sides.
Midway through, Sanford earned a penalty corner and the ball got loose in front, but Cheverus cleared it out of harm’s way. Less than a minute later, Stags senior Alyssa Audet sent a cross that rolled in front of the cage, but no one was there to bang it home. The visitors’ last, best chance came with 8:35 to play. Senior Mary Beth Jenkel had a shot on a corner, but Grinnell was there for a save.
Cheverus managed to run out the clock from there and celebrated its 2-1 win.
“We had the energy,” said Sawchuck. “We were so mentally prepared. We knew it would be a tough game and that we had to give it our all.”
“It was a very tough game for us,” added Stags second-year coach Amy McMullin. “I thought after last year, they’d come out and really want to beat us. We hadn’t been in a close game. This was our first test.
“Offense is our strong point right now. Defensively, we haven’t been tested. I was very nervous going into today. The defense did a great job. We have a new goalie and she played out of her mind. Protecting a lead is a tough thing. We had to change our game plan. It worked out.”
Cheverus had a 12-9 edge in shots and an 8-6 advantage in corners. Grinnell made eight saves. Downing stopped 10 shots for the Redskins.
Heavy lifting upcoming
The Stags can’t rest on their laurels. After going to improved South Portland Wednesday, Cheverus is home with Westbrook Friday and plays at Biddeford Tuesday of next week. Looking quite a ways down the road, the Stags will measure themselves against the best when they host defending Western A champion Scarborough in the regular season finale Oct. 10.
“We still have to keep pushing,” Sawchuck said. “We can’t get cocky or anything.”
“We have a tough part of our schedule coming up with Westbrook and Gorham,” McMullin added. “Hopefully, this will push us through.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com