The Indians held on to defeat Penn Manor, 1-0 to claim the 2016 L-L field hockey title. Patrick Blain.
WITMER — What started as a nervous intensity among Donegal’s coaches and players quickly dissipated with the encouragement of a raucous cheering section clad in green in the bleachers. That intensity soon turned into excitement all along the players’ bench, and following a hard-fought victory, settled wistfully into green glow-sticks being waved about on the bus-ride home.
The latter were being waved in celebration, of course, because for the second time in as many seasons, the Indians were hauling the Lancaster-Lebanon League field hockey trophy back home to Mount Joy.
And for the second time in as many seasons, it was a late goal off the stick of Mackenzie Allessie which helped the still-undefeated Indians (21-0) knock Penn Manor (20-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten by a 1-0 final, Thursday night at Conestoga Valley High School.
Last season, Allessie’s goal came with 14:21 left on the clock. This year, it came with 8:47 to play, coming on a penalty corner set up after Indians’ coach Jess Shellenberger had called timeout.
“It was supposed to be a pass left,” Allessie said. “But a time before they (the Penn Manor defenders) flew too high, and so we recognized that. (Rachel Robinson said), ‘not open,’ so it was like a communication thing and I put it in.”
“The timing of it both years, it’s just crazy how insane, it was so similar,” Shellenberger said. “They read what we wanted to do but then Mackenzie countered, and that’s why you put her in that position to have the ball in her hand. Mackenzie was like okay, ‘I’ll just shoot’ – that’s excellent, always a great option.”
That it came down to one play and one goal was a testament to both teams and players for each side. Penn Manor held the advantage through much of the first half and statistically throughout the game with 17 corners and 11 shots on goal.
Time and again, opportunities for the Comets’ wing players Alyssa Schriver and Hannah Brown and forwards Gabby Bitts and Emma DeBerdine were denied by Donegal’s defenders, spearheaded by Robinson.
And when Penn Manor did manage to break the Indians’ defense, Donegal goalkeeper Katie Jean was there, simultaneously saving the shot and clearing the ball out of the circle with an array of athletic slide-tackles.
“They have a heck of a team, don’t you think? They have a lot of good players,” stated Penn Manor coach Matt Soto. “Absolutely though, Katie Jean played marvelous. Eleven saves, eleven shots.”
“I knew that every single time I was coming out to make a save that my defense had my back,” Jean said.
The hyper-intensity of the early part of the contest meant a few miss-hits and extra-hard passes that allowed defenses to take advantage for deep runs on goal. It also led to arguably each sides’ most important player, Allessie for Donegal and midfielder Brooke DeBerdine for Penn Manor, sitting two minutes for a green cards issued just 20 seconds apart just ten minutes in.
But as Jean held down her end of the field, it was a matter of time before the Donegal offense would rise to the occasion.
“I knew they were going to score,” Jean said. “Even they were in our defensive half for a long time I knew we were going to come up with it eventually, we just had to keep going.”
“Tonight this really showed what Donegal field hockey is about,” Allessie said. “I think in the first half they kept pushing us, they were definitely dominating in the first half, and we just never gave up. We kept pushing; we kept trying over and over again and that’s what Donegal hockey is.”
Two saves in the first half and a third save coming in the second half by Comets’ goalkeeper Brit Hook stopped the Indians from taking a lead. But Hook had little chance on the shot by Allessie – the last of just four shots for Donegal on the night – as the sophomore maneuvered to her right and rocketed into the far corner.
“The kids, they drive the culture of this team,” Shellenberger said regarding the change at halftime. “They drive the leadership. (Robinson) is such a calming presence. It’s just I think they calmed themselves.
“Then I came in with a couple tactical things … and I was like we can win this game. We felt that last year, we felt that this year and we talked about weathering the storm with the pressure they bring and be ready for it. I was just so proud of them, they weathered the storm again.”
L-L Field Hockey Championship
At Conestoga Valley HS
Donegal 1, Penn Manor 0
1. DN, Mackenzie Allessie (UA), 21:13
CORNERS-SHOTS — DN, 8-4. PM, 17-11.
SAVES — DN, Katie Jean 11, PM, Brittany Hook 3.