Albemarle’s field hockey team knew that it was going to have to take its pace-of-play into overdrive with Massaponax coming to town in the Region 5A North playoffs Tuesday.
The Panthers came out of one of the best field hockey conferences in the state, and emerging from that group as the third place team is no easy task. It didn’t help Albemarle either that Massaponax played Monday in a win-or-go-home game and clearly built some momentum in a win over Potomac Falls.
“I think we actually came out with one of the best attacks I’ve seen in the first couple of minutes and unfortunately that didn’t result in a goal for us,” said Albemarle coach Brittany McElheny. “Massaponax started automatically pounding it down our throats and I think a lot of that has to do with their game last night, they were in a life or death situation last night so they had experienced the pressure. It’s still kind of new for us.”
The Patriots gained the upper hand by taking a one-goal lead early in the second half on an Anna Murray goal, but the Panthers stormed back, scoring twice down the stretch to take a 3-2 win and cut short an incredible Albemarle campaign that ends with a 15-2 record including an unbeaten Jefferson District run and a Conference 16 championship.
“I’ve been playing with these girls since fifth grade and to end on a 15-2 season is amazing, they’re like family to me,” said Albemarle senior Jane Pinnata. “We just happened to be unlucky tonight, but we’re a great team. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Those two Massaponax goals came from Maria Santiso off an assist from Isabel Ronza. Savannah Callan then had the go-ahead goal on an unassisted play, completing the Panthers’ surge. That push was indicative of a Massaponax squad that has been through some serious battles and will now face another one when they battle Mountain View in the region semifinals.
“We’ve had a little bit of struggle with that over the season so we’ve had a bit of practice not giving up while we’re down,” said Massaponax coach Claire Hagan. “I didn’t really make too many changes, the girls are really self-motivated and they changed whatever they saw on the field and succeeded with it.”
Albemarle battled and created some chances, particularly one late right on the doorstep off a short corner , but Panthers keeper Madison Callan rejected a pair of shots and then forced the ball out again and allowed the Panthers to hold on and advance.
Kat Bianchetto had the Patriots’ first half goal and keeper Logan Wood finished with five saves. Callan had six saves in the cage for the Panthers and Maddie McNult had the squad’s first half goal.
While the Patriots came up short and it ended a pack of seniors’ careers, one of those seniors made it clear that this was just the beginning.
“There are a lot of people coming back next year…I’ll really miss the team but it’s not over for them,” said Lauren Hughlett.