Sabers’ brave run ends
Last Friday night’s Division II state semifinal field hockey upset of the top-seeded, defending champion Derryfield School might go down as one of the great victories in Souhegan High School history.
It was also the most physically and emotionally draining ever, 80 minutes of field hockey on the brink plus the most nerve-wracking of shootouts. The fourth seeded Sabers paid the price for it less than 48 hours later, falling to No. 2 Hanover in the NHIAA championship game here at Bedford High School on Sunday afternoon, 3-0.
“We left a lot of it at the semi, a game that goes that deep. One day in between these two games is rough,” said Sabers’ coach Kelli Braley, whose semifinal was held back a day due to weather this week.
“We were together last night but didn’t touch balls, which I don’t think we necessarily needed to. We had just spent 80 minutes doing that the night before.
“They were gassed and the experience Hanover has being here three times plays to their advantage as well. Their veteran corps has been here, knows what to do here and how to win here.”
Souhegan got off to a great start and played well through the early going. But it changed rapidly.
“I saw it a lot in the first half. We controlled that first 15 pretty decently,” said Braley. “Then I saw the fatigue set in.That’s when the tide turned a little bit. We weren’t doing the small things.”
Hanover took advantage. After not allowing a ball into the net against Derryfield, Souhegan trailed 1-0 in the 22nd minute on a Katherine Blaisdell goal.
“Huge, it really took the wind out of our sails a little bit, even though there was so much hockey left to play,” said Braley. “When that first one went in, collectively it was like an uh-oh situation. And still this is a season where we really didn’t give up a lot other than those last four (regular season) games when we were injury-riddled.
“When you’re not practiced in having to rebound and come back, it makes it a little bit tougher. Today, we just didn’t have it.”
Hanover smelled it, and despite a pretty gritty effort, the Sabers allowed goals from Macy Curtis on a penalty stroke and Olivia Trummel to end it.
Braley’s crew finished up the year at 13-3 and graduates nine seniors including two-year starting goalie Ellie Byram.
“Losing any senior hurts,” said Braley. “Field-wise, our goalies are really going to have to step up. (Ellie) has some big pads to fill. She’s been our starter for the last two years and now we have to find someone who can go.
“The leadership all the seniors have given has been great. Izzy (Aiello) and (Sarah) Geary as the other two captains have been invaluable. The three of them together have really been true extensions of me, which is what a great captain is. So yeah, it’s going to sting.”
Division II Semis
After 80 spirited yet scoreless minutes, these girls boldly went where no New Hampshire field hockey teams had gone before … a one-on-one penalty shootout to break the tie in the state semis.
Souhegan High School’s Ellie Byram felt more than at home in the showdown, in fact, it was like she invented the concept for some school project.
The Sabers’ senior goalie stopped all four eight-second attacks she face and Souhegan scored twice in its three tries, stunning the top-seeded, unbeaten, defending Division II champs from Derryfield, in last Friday night’s state semifinals.
“It was really exciting, I think I did well,” understated Byram. “I try to step out and take up as much space as possible because the more space I take up the less chance they have to score. I just try to be on my toes and be active, reacting really fast. That’s how I play. This was really mind-blowing.
“It was awesome, the adrenaline was going, I was in tears.”
“That was an incredible game on both sides, hard fought, really great stuff,” said Sabers coach Kelli Braley. “I’m so proud at how deep my girls were able to dig into the tank to pull that one out. That’s a lot of field hockey that just happened. “For them to be able to go the distance is an amazing thing for me to watch, and it’s a testament to all the work they put in, all the hours we’ve spent together in training and everything we’ve set out to do. I’m beyond proud.”
Only Byram’s shootout heroics could dwarf the work she did in the first 80 minutes, spinning away threat after threat with kick saves and sprawling acrobatic dives.
She got plenty of help, too, with stellar work from Izzy Aiello, Avery Karavas, Molly Atkinson, Cari Mastergeorge and all the Sabers, who helped neutralize the lethal Cougars and their University of Michigan-bound senior sensation Lindsey Stagg.
That set up the new, unique 8-second, penalty shot battle, in which teams alternate five different chances.
Derryfield went first, and Byram stepped up confidently. Saber Miya Chorney then took her best shot and worked around Cougar keeper Olivia Bollengier for the 1-0 lead.
After each team missed in round 2, it was again Byram taking over Round 3, followed by Souhegan’s Juliette Rafuse, who made it look easy, with a deke and a rocket that made it 2-0.
One more save was needed to lock it down and when the Derryfield shot hit off the post, Byram booted it away, sealing the shocker.
“I was not worried about Ell at all. I knew she’d be able to handle it,” said Braley. “I really felt like we had a strong advantage there.”