Orioles struggle to find balance
Conant falls 3-1 to Newport in season opener after falling behind in first half
With a rebuilt forward line, there was little question that the Conant field hockey team may have some struggles on offense.
The Orioles were without the top two goal scorers from last year’s playoff team, so Tuesday’s opener with Newport would be a good measuring stick as to where the team stood. And more importantly, where they need to get to.
But even with some new faces on offense, third-year coach Leigh Webb was confident that her defense — led by two seniors — would keep the game close. But that was not always the case.
Some momentary lapses in coverage and miscommunications in front of sophomore goalie Sarah Gonsalves allowed Newport to take a three-goal lead into the half. Conant just could not recover.
“I was disappointed in our defense because there were a lot more breakdowns than I anticipated,” said Webb.
The Orioles fell 3-1 on their home field, with the lone goal coming late in the second half after senior Kaleigh Johnson was moved to the forward line.
“There’s only one returning player on the forward line and that was exposed,” said Webb.
Conant really played better in the second half, controlling the pace of play much like it did in the opening 10 minutes of the game, just prior to Newport’s first tally.
“We pulled it together,” said Gonsalves. “We did what we needed to do and although we didn’t come out with the win, we proved we had it inside of ourselves to at least make an effort to come back.”
A couple quick passes got the Tigers into a two-on-one situation with Gonsalves and once the Conant netminder committed to blocking the left post, a cross from Nikki Gardner to Julia Sullivan resulted in a wide open shot and a 1-0 deficit for the Orioles.
Just over two minutes later, Sullivan struck again as she ricocheted a shot from the end line off the inside of Gonsavles’ left pad.
Then with just over a minute left before the break, another defensive breakdown allowed Hannah Merrow to get deep into the Conant zone and Gonsalves did what she could to prevent another goal. She made the initial stop on Merrow, but was unable to derail the follow up, and just like that, the Orioles were down 3-0.
“We need to talk more. We have a lot of quiet girls and I don’t know why, but communication is key,” said Johnson.
At the half, Webb allowed her captains to talk it out. She wanted them to figure out how to fix the inefficiencies on offense and breakdowns on defense.
“I think she was a little bit frustrated because we knew what we were supposed to do and we weren’t doing it,” said Johnson. “But we had our own little pep talk and it seemed to work.”
In the first half, Newport owned a three-to-one advantage on corners, scoring one goal, while Gonsalves faced 10 shots with seven saves. As far as the Orioles’ offense goes, they accounted for no shots.
It was as if there was a force field around the offensive circle. There seemed to be little problem getting it there, but each time they were turned away before reaching Newport goalie Leah Peel.
The defense improved in the second half — and Gonsalves stopped all seven shots — but it was took a while for the offense to do the same. It took the move of Johnson to not only collect the first shot, but also the only goal.
“If we played more man-to-man in front of her she maybe wouldn’t have had all those shots to face,” said Webb.
Gonsalves made 14 saves on 17 shots, while Peel accounted for two only saves.
“She’s worked very hard all along,” said Webb of Gonsalves. “She takes her position very seriously.”
Conant travels to Pelham on Friday.