DOWNINGTOWN—In any year, it's a safe bet that the matchup between Ches-Mont League National Division field hockey rivals Downingtown West and West Chester Henderson is circled on both teams' schedules. This year, the already heated contest had the flame turned up a few notches, as both squads came into the game at Kottmeyer Stadium with undefeated records.
"It was two good teams coming together for a great field hockey game,' said Henderson coach Jen O'Donnell. "Downingtown West is always fundamentally strong and tough. We knew this was going to be a battle.'
And it was. The two teams fought tightly the whole game, and it wasn't until Katie O'Donnell scored on a penalty corner with just 1:42 remaining in regulation that the Warriors gained the lead and held on for the 2-1 victory.
"We played very well today,' said West coach Liz Morrow. "I couldn't be more proud and pleased with how we moved the ball up the field together and our overall effort — everyone contributed. We had a lot of opportunities in the circle, but we struggled with finishing.'
It was a fast-paced, intense game from the get-go, with both teams getting pressure around the cage from beginning to end. Neither defense got much of a chance to breathe, as both teams were doing a great job of getting the ball into the circle.
"The tempo was high for both teams,' said Katie O'Donnell. "You could feel the energy out there, from both your teammates, and from West. That kind of intensity is what makes these kind of games so much fun to play.'
It was O'Donnell who first took the goose egg off the board. Henderson was awarded a penalty corner, and Madison Lampe put the ball in play on the insert, sending it to the top of the circle to O'Donnell, who slammed it home to the stick side of West goalie Connor Leahy to make it 1-0.
West had an opportunity to tie the game less than a minute later when the Whippets were awarded a penalty stroke. Makenna Colby set up for the Whippets, and sent her shot low and to the left of Warriors' goalie Emily Finn. Finn shifted, then dropped her left knee in front of the oncoming ball for the save.
"It's all about watching the stroker,' said Finn. "I've played against (Colby) before, and I had a little feel for what she does. Strokes are always a big deal, you just have to zone out and focus. It's about reading the body language, and also a bit of luck.'
Getting some good practice at it doesn't hurt either.
"We work on strokes every day at practice,' said coach O'Donnell. "We have the two who usually take strokes for us, Katie and Briana Bolon set up and take shots on Emily, and they really make it a competition. That kind of competition in practice serves everyone well when it comes time to do it in a game.'
West tied the game at 1-1 with just over five minutes to go in the first half, when Colby sent a pass to Savannah Cabaddu. Cabaddu slipped it past Finn for the tie.
The Whippets picked up the pace in the second half, forcing four corners in a six-minute span in the period. But none of the trips inside the circle resulted in a goal.
"Their goalie did a great job in the cage for them,' said Morrow. "She kept them in the game.'
While Finn did post six saves in the half and 10 in the game, she was quick to deflect praise.
"We have such a strong defense, and just a strong team really,' said Finn. "We all just have to do our jobs. It feels great to get the win. We're always hyped when we play West. They played great today, but so did we, and we just got the better in the end.'
With the win, Henderson takes a big step towards another division title, with just over two weeks remaining in the regular season.
"We definitely took a big step today for our season,' said Katie O'Donnell. "But we have a lot of tough games ahead. We just have to keep pushing and keep playing our game, and take things one game at a time.'
Though the Whippets took a tough loss, they are still in position to get a high seed come post-season, as the Ches-Mont is one of the stronger league's in District 1 this season.
"With both of their goals coming from corners, we definitely learned that we still have room for improvement and need to do a better job of not giving up six corners a half,' said Morrow. "That is what hurt us in the end.'
W.C. Henderson 2, Downingtown West 1
W.C. Henderson 1 1 -- 2
Downingtown West 1 0 -- 1
W.C. Henderson goals: O'Donnell 2.
Downingtown West goal: Cabaddu.
Goalie saves: Finn (WCH) 10; Leahy (DW) 4.