DEFENSE THE STORY AS EASTERN EDGES EMMAUS

By Al Mattei
Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The question amongst the field hockey cogniscenti in the weeks before Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the No. 1 team in the TopOfTheCircle.com Top 10, met No. 6 Emmaus (Pa.) was how well the defenses of both teams would withstand their opponents' high-powered attacks.

Though history will show that Ashley Walls broke through for a pair of second-half goals to extend Eastern's Federation-record unbeaten streak to 131 games with a 2-1 win over the Green Hornets at McAleer Stadium, let it also be known that both teams can play some superb defense.

Eastern got some heroic rearguard performances from quad-captain Missy Walls, sophomore defender Meghan Dawson, and even center forward Meghan Bain, whose late clears of Emmaus free hits into the scoring circle ended the last couple of Emmaus scoring chances against a team which had scored 126 goals coming into the match.

Conversely, the Emmaus defense, led by center back Mary Kate Hanosek, left defender Rachel Jennings, and corner flyer Tara King, held the Vikings scoreless through the first 38 minutes of the game -- an amazing feat, considering the opposition had scored 117 goals coming into the match.

"They really brought it to us," King said. "But this was one of the best defensive games we've ever played."

The Hornets, playing a high, layered pressure, forced Eastern out of its possession game and flustered the Vikings into giving up the ball much earlier than it was used to, elongating passing lanes. Several deep passes were cut off before their intended targets or strayed over the end line.

"We had to release the ball sooner than we were, because they were stepping up on defense, one after another, after another," said Eastern head coach Danyle Heilig, who still hasn't lost a game as Vikings head coach. "They are the most sound team I have seen in six years. I have seen more explosive teams and individual players, but as a unit they were solid. Solid. Solid."

Emmaus took advantage of an almost microscopic opportunity to score the opener. In the 35th minute, what looked like an innocuous diagonal pass into the circle found an open space right between Emmaus forward Jess Werley and Vikings goalie Lyndsie Johnson.

Jess Werley, with an effort reminiscent of her sister, former national-teamer and TopOfTheCircle.com Player of the Decade Cindy Werley, dove and poked the ball into the cage.

"She had an outstanding goal," said the legendary head coach Susan Butz-Stavin, whose teams have won six PIAA championships and 579 games. "And this was a good test for us to see what we need to do to prepare for our state tournament."

The legion of green-clad Hornet supporters cheered wildly, but the euphoria lasted just three minutes. The Vikings got an extra jump in their step and earned a corner, inserted and converted by Ashley Walls on a goalmouth tip-in of a Lauren Walls shot. The chase was joined.

"I was telling Jenna (Gallo, the Vikings' sweeper) that the goal they scored was what we needed to get us motivated," Lauren Walls said. "It would have been different if we had scored first."

The ice broken, scoring chances continued at a furious pace as openings developed in both defenses. A couple of minute after the equalizer, Lauren Walls managed to escape into the deep right wing and ripped one of her patented crosses into the middle. The shot was saved and momentarily trapped under the pads of Emmaus goalkeeper Andrea Maniero, causing a penalty stroke to be called. But the senior redeemed herself by making a low stick save in the corner.

The Hornets then surged. A series of Emmaus corners was ended on an uncontrolled-stick violation three minutes after the stroke attempt, and Missy Walls cleared a very dangerous Emmaus corner three minutes afterwards.

"All we practiced yesterday was defense, and Dawson definitely stepped up," Missy Walls said. "She's going to be a great asset for this team."

But in the 55th minute, the Vikings would get the game-winner pretty much on the same play as the equalizer. Dawson's corner blast was saved by Mainero, but inserter Ashley Walls smartly snared the rebound and found the back of the goal cage.

"They never stopped working, and that says a lot," Heilig said. "We talked about really being relentless. We wanted to go with the straight shot and see if we could get the rebounds."

The teams took several minutes in the first half feeling each other out before attack opportunities manifested themselves. A nice flash corner on the part of Emmaus in the eighth minute yielded the first dangerous scoring chance of the match, though the final touch at the far post was wanting.

An early Eastern timeout temporarily put an extra jump in the Vikings' steps. They assaulted the Hornets' scoring circle, earning several good corner chances, but they were defensed by a corner defense team led by King.

Late in the half, Emmaus started getting the better of possession in the midfield, but were turned aside by some outstanding defense on the part of Dawson and Gallo.

A reverse match is planned for 2005 on Emmaus' field hockey and soccer turf facility. In the interim, Emmaus only graduates three players, while Eastern graduates the Walls triplets, all of which could make for a very interesting contest.

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FIN

Emmaus

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1

Eastern

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SCORING

Em: Jess Werley (Christina Bortz), FG, 35th minute.

Ea: Ashley Walls (Lauren Walls), PC, 38th.

Ea: A. Walls, PC, 55th.

Shots-- Em: 7; Ea: 12.

Saves-- Em: Andrea Mainiero 10; Ea: Lyndsie Johnson 6.

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