The backswing of a drive in field hockey can send a defender out of the game, or to the hospital, if a player gets caught at the wrong angle. Especially if it’s the backswing off the hit of one of No. 6 Atholton’s defenders who are blasting the ball down the middle to forward Rachel Day.
It took No. 3 Glenelg until the second half to realize that if they braved the swings of the Raiders, they would have the edge in a meeting of two 2012 state champions. The Gladiators rallied from a halftime deficit with two second-half goals to win in Columbia, 3-2.
“We hadn’t seen anybody with the kinds of hits they had,” Glenelg Coach Ginger Kincaid said. “But once we started backing off the ball, then we were fine. I had to tell them that the safest place to be is right up inside their swing instead of at the end of it.”
Atholton (4-2, 3-2 Howard County) was using those powerful hits to send the ball upfield to a waiting Day, or to give midfielder Jen Bleakney a head start on her speedy dodges around the Glenelg defenders. The Raiders struck first with a goal from forward Ashley Martin to the left post nine minutes into the game.
Senior forward Lauren Pelky tied it up three minutes later, but Atholton maintained offensive pressure until Day put the Raiders ahead with less than four minutes remaining in the half.
Day played defense until Coach Martie Dyer took over at Atholton last year and pushed the senior up to forward. She was the leading scorer en route to Atholton’s first 3A state title and played far into Glenelg’s half, where she waited for the big drives from downfield teammates and used a series of spins, dodges and reverse sweeps to evade the Gladiator defenders.
“Their drives were pretty intimidating, especially because they kept going to Rachel,” Pelky said. “It set us back a little bit knowing it was going to her every time.
The three-time defending 2A champion Gladiators (5-2, 4-1) reinforced a few major points at halftime: grab every rebound and loose ball, always get a touch in a circle and don’t shy away from defending Atholton’s drives.
Junior forward Megan Taylor delivered three minutes into the second half with a flick to the right top of the goal to tie the game.
“We challenged instead of backing up,” Taylor said of the team’s second-half mentality.
The winning goal came seven minutes later off a rebound picked up from Pelky and slammed into the goal. Atholton’s best chances came after a timeout with 11 minutes left, and the Raiders nearly tied it up during a corner in the last two minutes.
The Gladiators maintained the lead by preventing the hits in the back from reaching Day and Bleakney and putting more pressure on the Raiders’ defense with short, quick passes.
“We got sucked into their big hits and there was so much space that we couldn’t do our type of little passes,” Kincaid said. “We needed to do more of our own playing.”