Milford field hockey falls to Merrimack Valley

PENACOOK – The Merrimack Valley High School field hockey team has kept things simple all season.

Sticking to the basics helped the No. 6 Pride score twice in the first half Thursday and hold off No. 11 Milford in the second half for a 2-0 victory in a Division II preliminary round game.

“We don’t do anything fancy,” Pride coach Kim Kenney said. “Stop the ball, get rid of the ball and hope that the midfielders and forwards go. Our midfielders have been doing a great job keeping control of the game.”

Olivia Thurber and Cassidy Huckins each scored in the final 8:19 of the first half, as Merrimack Valley held its opponent without a goal for the fourth straight game.

The Pride (10-4-1) were able to get the win even though the Spartans (6-9) had possession of the ball for longer stretches. Milford’s goalie Kaitlyn Nelson made three saves, but the Spartans were unable to capitalize on their chances, which included four penalty corners in the second half.

“I’m not disappointed with how we played,” Milford coach Tracie Ibarra said. “I wish the outcome had been different, but I’m not disappointed. I think we ended the game much stronger than we started. We were prepared for the game, but I don’t think we were prepared for the wind and the cold. We adjusted. We made the adjustments we had to in the second half.”

The adjustments showed right from the start.

Huckins’ goal gave Merrimack Valley a 2-0 lead with 1:25 left in the first half, but the Pride couldn’t carry the momentum. Milford got the ball after halftime and went right down the field, drawing a penalty corner in the half’s first two minutes.

The Spartans executed the corner well, but when the ball came around to Kelsie Poulter, she missed on a wide-open shot.

“We were playing great,” Milford senior Shannon Kolasinski said. “We controlled the ball for a good portion. We had a bunch of opportunities. We were so close. They just converted their (opportunities).”

Milford was only able to generate one other shot off its corners, and although the Spartans put pressure on the Pride defense, they didn’t put the ball on net.

“We don’t have a problem getting it down there, it’s just finishing,” Ibarra said. “We’ll know what we need to work on (next year), and that’s putting the ball into the goal.”

Despite the loss, the Spartans, who were winless last season, felt good about what they accomplished this year, and with a lot of players returning, Ibarra is hopeful for a longer playoff run.

“This is such a great group of girls,” she said. “I’m happy with this season. I think the girls have proven to themselves what they’re capable of doing. We’ll start from here. This will be square one and we’ll climb the ladder from here.”