This season’s two best teams in the SCC for field hockey of Hand and Lauralton Hall seemed on a collision course for a five-star conference final matchup all year long and the clash lived up to the hype and, fortunately for the Tigers, it ended in fast and thrilling fashion.
Top-seeded Hand hosted No. 2 Lauralton Hall, in its first year as a SCC school, for the conference crown on Oct. 29 and emerged with a 2-1 overtime victory in a top-notch battle to give the Tigers their first SCC title in four years. After Hand took a 1-0 lead, the Crusaders answered with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Yet for the extra session, senior Katie Omdahl made it a quick one when she scored 61 seconds into the bonus period to send the Tigers to SCC supremacy.
“I feel like overtime made me and the team more determined to win. We had been thinking about this game all day and wanted it so badly,” said Omdahl. “Putting in the last goal felt so great; I almost didn’t think it was real. I think winning SCCs on our home field with all the support we had also made us stronger as a team. As a senior playing in my last SCC Tournament, I couldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
The Tigers outshot the Crusaders 12-5 with senior goaltender Mel Rennie making three saves as senior co-captain Erin Mammele (tournament’s Most Outstanding Player) assisted on the game winner. As she experienced the clutch moment of putting her team in front, Nizolek additionally praised the defensive effort by the Crusaders.
“It was the most amazing feeling getting that first goal and putting us on the board,” said Nizolek. “Lauralton’s defense was so strong and the fact that we slipped one right by its tough defense and amazing goalie was an unreal feeling. I’m not usually the player who is scoring goals, so to have that awesome experience of scoring such an important goal in the SCC final is a moment that I’ll never forget.”
Both squads played to a scoreless opening half, during which the Crusaders’ junior Grace Cogguillo had the best opportunity for Lauralton Hall (14-3-1) to go ahead while junior Sam Pavano had a pair of chances for the Tigers (16-2-1).
“It was a great night; everyone did their job from the forwards back to Mel Rennie in goal,” said Head Coach Sue Leckey. “Our defense of [seniors] Liah Gies, Olivia Jackson, Katie McKeon, [junior] Alli Buller, and [senior co-captain and SCC Player of the Year] Hannah Leckey consistently prevented Lauralton Hall from possessing the ball and carrying it into our defensive zone. The minimal offense was mounted off of big hits at the Tigers, which allowed the defenders to possess the ball and distribute it safely to the outside middies or wing and begin our offensive attack. Mammele, Nizolek, and Pavano were terrific in the middle of the field offering the initial line of defense and the initial attack on offense as well.”
Shortly after halftime, the Tigers were able to get an offensive attack that resulted in a scramble in front of the Lauralton cage, and Nizolek took a quick diving shot to bang the ball into the back of the goal to put Hand ahead 1-0 at 3:18 into the second.
Closing in on five minutes remaining for the period, the Tigers looked for the all-important second insurance tally but they were denied when Crusaders’ sophomore netminder Marybeth Rudolf made a duo of diving stops to keep her club within a score.
Lauralton Hall started a rush of pressure offensively toward Hand—including earning three penalty corners—but it couldn’t put one in until, with 1:26 remaining, senior Kara Duggan knotted the game at one following a goal in traffic after a broken up corner. The Crusaders took a cross goal pass that was tipped in the far corner of the goal. Hand had a final look at the net on a corner issued with no time left, though overtime was needed.
In the 7-on-7 session, the Crusaders opened with possession of the ball and appeared to have momentum, although Leckey made a defensive stop at about the 20-yard line, and the Tigers proceeded to move the ball the entire length of the field with the final two touches being from Mammele, who hit a long ball through to a well-positioned Omdahl. Omdahl then put the winning reverse shot on Rudolf to secure the SCC championship.
The champions previously defeated No. 5 seed Branford 3-0 in the semifinal round at home on Oct. 27. Omdahl scored while Mammele added on two second half goals. Rennie also stopped all five of the Hornets’ shots and Leckey assisted on both Mammele tallies for Hand (11 shots).
Hand next focused on the Class M State Tournament, which begins on Tuesday, Nov. 4 with a first round matchup at home. Coach Leckey added that the Tigers will head into the draw following a well-rounded group effort.
“It was awesome and a great team effort. Rennie had three great saves in goal and the Tigers were persistent,” said Leckey. “Despite more corners called for Lauralton, our defense stayed sturdy to protect its house.”