By the time Katie Ballew hit Tullio Field turf in the 64th minute on Sept. 19, a Mercyhurst field hockey unit starved for offense and looking to make an early-season statement knew that task was about to get that much harder. An injury on the Lakers’ Clare Ahern allowed the Mansfield Mountaineers to improve to 4-1 on the young season, overcoming Alexis Skibitsky’s icebreaker in the 39th minute and leaving winners with a 2-1 victory.
With new assistant coach Cayla Slade the final link between the current roster and the last in 2014 to even make the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) tournament, the Lakers (1-3 after the game; now 1-4) sought to tell the rest of the conference they were done rebuilding and finally coming after them. Both Mountaineer tallies came as part of an 8-4 shot advantage in the second half, but the game’s narrative was flipped with 6:38 left in regulation.
A grounder pickup from Leah Rogers at the Mountaineer 28 saw her drive up the west sideline before sending a diagonal backhand at the 22 that was picked up by Mansfield’s Madison Wilinsky and sent to Mikaila Chakon at the 13, sending Ballew over near the Laker sideline to cover her from about eight yards out.
They arrived at the 19 with Chakon on the outside, where they took a few steps as Ballew tried to wrestle the ball away from her, but she tripped and fell at the 23 after it appeared that Chakon may have bumped into her.
Ballew then rolled over and waited on medical personnel. She was able to walk off the field under her own power and returned to the lineup in East Stroudsburg this past Saturday Sept. 20.
All three goals were scored in the second half, Skibitsky’s second of the season coming just 3:57 after intermission. Ballew started the sequence at the Mountaineer 41, wrestling the ball from Mansfield’s Megan Griffin and allowing Mercyhurst’s Katelyn Smith to launch a pass into the circle to Skibitsky before she dumped the ball off to her left, caught the pass from Ballew, and beat goalkeeper Brittany Ryan on the far side.
But Skibitsky would be substituted for Alexandria Shumsky three and a half minutes later, allowing Mansfield’s Dana Evans to catch Christie Buyer’s outlet pass at the west end of the Laker 12 and curve to the inside, ward off two Laker defenders, and sent a horizontal pass to Mountaineer Emily Sadowski on the other end of the circle. The pass caught Mansfield’s Larissa Motts even with Victoria Triaga and Rogers next to the right pipe, allowing her to send her third of the season to the open area of the cage at 43 minutes in.
A scoreless sequence of eight and a half minutes ensued before the Mountaineers’ Gabby Hieber intercepted Christina Mertz’s clear and avoided Maeve Magee — who had come over from the 30 to help Smith break up the pass — at the Laker 25½-yard line. With a diagonal outlet pass to Motts, Hieber jutted out of Smith’s reach before forcing the Lakers’ Abigail D’Amato inside to the 7 and continuing diagonally.
D’Amato caught Motts’ horizontal pass to the circle, but the blade of her stick sent the ball to a waiting Evans at the 2½ before she curved inward to avoid Mertz and find Evans in the slot for her second of the season at 16:17 of the second half. “We’ve had a dominance in the circle, which has really set us apart,” Evans said. “We had to keep our composure and not let up, they scored the first goal so we just had to really focus on coming back and playing … as hard as we could.” The two defenses held their own over the first 35 minutes; the Mountaineers, however, were unable to fully get to Triaga despite a 6-1 shot advantage in the first half and the Lakers not falling victim to 36 first-half fouls. Both sides failed to convert all seven of their respective corners, three of which came in the first for each side as the Lakers looked to shore up their defensive unit after allowing two goals in the final minute in Indiana on Sept. 10.
The Mountaineers then outshot their hosts 8-4 in the second, forcing Triaga into five saves. Skibitsky, Smith and Shumsky recorded the only shots-on-goal against Ryan, both of her saves coming respective on 45 and 50 minutes.