Wells Delivers Knockout Punch as Yale Beats Maine 4-3 in OT

Yale celebrates the game-winning goal by Nicole Wells. (photo by Sam Rubin ?95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Holland Makes Five Defensive Saves

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – When the horn sounded with the score tied 3-3 at the end of regulation on Sunday afternoon at Johnson Field, the Yale field hockey team was ready to fight one more round. Just a day after an emotional last-second Ivy League win over Dartmouth, the Bulldogs knew they had to guard against any chance of a letdown and be ready for a battle with Maine. That was one of the points of focus in the pregame meeting, where Pam Stuper, Yale's Caroline Ruth Thompson '02 Head Coach of Field Hockey, chose to read a quotation from boxer James Corbett that included the line "When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired that you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round -- remembering that the man who always fights one more round is never whipped."

No-one could have known then that the Bulldogs would, in fact, have to go to overtime to beat the Bears. Still, Stuper was confident in her team's preparation.

"I could tell we were ready when we sat in the locker room and went through the game plan," said Stuper. "They really took to heart what we needed to do."

So when the game came down to a back-and-forth extra session that saw each team get multiple chances to deliver the knockout blow -- including one apparent game-winning goal by the Bulldogs that got disallowed -- Yale was ready.

Maine (9-7, 2-2 America East) had the first scoring chance of the extra session, but junior goalkeeper Heather Schlesier made a blocker save on a shot by forward Cassidy Svetek two minutes in. Right after that the Bulldogs had numbers in transition with senior forward/midfielder Erica Borgo and junior forward Jessie Accurso charging hard towards the net, but Maine midfielder Annabelle Hamilton and goalie Natasha Ford combined to deny a pair of shots. Ford then made another save on a Yale penalty corner right after that.

Three minutes and 30 seconds into overtime the Bulldogs had another golden chance, but Ford made a save on Accurso after a nice set up from senior midfielder/back Georgia Holland. The potential for frustration escalated to a new level for Yale at the 10:58 mark, when senior midfielder Emily Schuckert scored what appeared to be the game-winner after dribbling in the circle and firing in a shot. The Bulldogs celebrated and lined up for the post-game handshake, but while that was happening the officials conferred and eventually determined that the ball had hit Schuckert's feet as she started to drive toward the goal. The goal was disallowed and Maine was awarded the ball.

"Our team handled it really well," said Stuper. "We knew we had to remain calm and just get back out there."

After another save by Ford on a Yale penalty corner, the Black Bears nearly caught the Bulldogs in transition. But sophomore back Danee Fitzgerald hustled back to disrupt the play, and Schlesier ended that threat with a kick save on a shot by forward Danielle Aviani.

In a game with plenty of heroes, the decisive play came from a familiar source: sophomore midfielder Nicole Wells, who had scored the game-winner with 25 seconds to play against Dartmouth the day before. While Saturday's shot was a perfectly-placed deflection, Sunday's came after Wells showcased her offensive moves with her back to the cage before turning around and whipping the ball in at 77:27. It was her third goal of the season.

"Nicole has really had a great year," said Stuper. "Every day she steps on the field she does something better. Not only is she a strong defender, but she also can put the ball in the back of the net."

That left Yale to celebrate victory a second time, this time for good. Like Saturday, the win came with a lineup that has been radically altered by injuries over the course of the season -- among many changes, this weekend saw freshman Emilie Katz switch from goalie to forward to help fill one of the holes created by injuries.

"I'm very proud of the team for the way they played this whole weekend," said Stuper. "They showed grit, heart, fight and determination."

For nearly 45 minutes at the start of the game, though, it looked like Yale (6-7, 2-2 Ivy League) would not need overtime to come away with the win. Freshman forward Rhoni Gericke put the Bulldogs ahead 1-0 at 25:46 of the first. On a penalty corner, Holland put the initial shot on goal but was denied. Wells helped keep the rebound alive, and Gericke knocked it in for the goal.

"Rhoni's the person you want with the ball if there's a scramble in front of the net," said Stuper. "She has got a great stick."

Holland, meanwhile, put on a show defensively. Over the course of the first half she made five defensive saves, a number that probably looks like a misprint to most people reading the box score. The NCAA does not keep records of that sort, but that total is clearly uncommon. In her more than two decades around the game of field hockey, Stuper could not recall anyone with a similar performance.

"Never," said Stuper. "Usually, even if you have two or three defensive saves in a game it's unbelievable."

The Black Bears had eight penalty corners in the first, and on many of them they tried rifling a shot just to the goalie's blocker side. But that was where Holland was stationed, and she sticked aside everything that came her way.

Gericke extended the lead to 2-0 at 29:20 of the second. Accurso settled down a long pass in transition, and Gericke fired it in.

Maine got a penalty corner at the end of the first half but Schlesier made a kick save on midfielder Annabelle Hamilton, then denied Hamilton's follow-up attempt to keep the Yale lead at two goals.

A green card on Holland with 28:06 to play provided the first big test for the Bulldogs. With the team captain sidelined, Stuper had to pick a player to fill the center back spot -- and called upon Borgo for a rare appearance in the backfield.

"Georgia's leadership in the backfield has been phenomenal," said Stuper. "She's been one of the best we have had here with her on-field play, her communication and her ability to organize the backfield. With her out of the game temporarily, I knew we needed a vocal leader. I knew Borgo would keep us organized and steady until Georgia got back."

That plan worked to stem the tide until Holland returned to the game, but Maine started its comeback with a goal from a tough angle by forward Holly Stewart at 25:16. Shortly after that a Black Bear corner set up the game-tying goal. Stewart redirected a perfectly placed pass from Hamilton in front of the cage.

"To Maine's credit, they are a really good team," said Stuper. "After giving them so many opportunities [the Black Bears finished with 32 shots], we were bound to see one or two of them fall sooner or later."

Schlesier kept the game 2-2 with a nice save on a tip in front of the cage by midfielder/back Marissa Shaw with 16 minutes to play. Schlesier also made a kick save on a shot by Hamilton on a penalty corner with 10:20 left.

After doing yeoman's work defensively, Holland got the chance to contribute a big goal when the Bulldogs earned a corner with less than eight minutes to play. Off the insertion by Borgo and the stick stop by Schuckert, Holland drilled in her seventh goal of the season to put Yale ahead 3-2 with 7:21 to play.

Maine answered with a penalty corner goal of its own, as Hamilton scored again to tie the score 3-3 with 3:40 left in regulation. That set the stage for the dramatic overtime victory.

Yale plays again next Saturday at Penn.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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