U16 NIT Report
What a journey it has been for this U16 team. After the most dramatic of qualifications on a snowy day up at Siena College, this young group came together at the Spooky Nook to see how they would fare against the best in the country. There were some challenges, undoubtedly, tears, certainly, but also some fantastic hockey that our whole club should be proud of.
Firstly, two words for Talia: thank you. I do not envy her mom when Talia arrived home on the Wednesday before the tournament, her ankle wrapped and crutches taking her weight. There is a lesson here: don't play volleyball. Of course this isn't true, volleyball is a great sport to play on a beach, in California, in August. When you don't have an NIT the upcoming weekend... We all knew that Talia was going to be a big miss for the team, and so it proved, but the thank you is for the fact that both her and her mom not only came to the tournament on the Friday, they stayed all weekend! A true team mate. A Knight.
Friday we had just one game. Never easy when you want to get into a rhythm. Our opponent was Hudson Valley, a team we had actually faced in Siena and to whom we lost in shootouts. We were looking for revenge. Sadly, thanks to a slow start that saw us 2-0 down inside the first two minutes, the sweet taste of vengeance was never tasted. We did, however, mount a spirited fightback. Aryana was always a threat on penalty corners and she kept us in it when she fired one into the top corner. We lacked focus again though and Hudson Valley scored another on the stroke of halftime to take us into the break 3-1 down. The second half was a different story though. Amanda scored a great APC with an assist from Meadow and with Emily, Claire, Adeline and Julia sharing the responsibilities as forwards, we searched for the equalizer. Our New York opponents weren't going to roll over though and they snatched another goal to make it 4-2. Back we came again though as Amanda scored another from Meadow's assist. We searched for the equalizer with Adeline especially dangerous on the break and Aryana creating chances, but we left ourselves open to the counter and it was on one of these that Hudson scored again to put the opening game beyond our reach.
We proved that we could play with the teams around us. Amanda and Meadow, along with Aryana and Julia were solid in defense, and Kayla made some great saves behind them. And with three goals scored we knew that Claire, Emily and Adeline were always going to be a threat further forward. We were ready for Day 2.
First game. 6:45 AM meeting. We were pumped. FSC were our opponents, an established team from PA. The simple fact is that we were the better team. Kayla made some excellent saves but the control that Meadow, Amanda and Aryana held on the game meant we bossed it. But we couldn't score. Try as we could we couldn't score. And because we couldn't we started to carry it too much, forgetting the key to indoor: passing. Adeline and Emily and Claire and Julia worked hard but couldn't find the openings and we left we a tight loss that was a bitter pill to swallow. It wouldn't come close to what happened next though.
One of the great challenges of indoor, and sport in general, is not lowering yourselves to the opposition's standard. Delaware were not strong and didn't really understand indoor but we failed to capitalize. Instead of moving them by moving the ball we tried to carry it. Every player on the team was guilty of this. We gave up soft goals by not working hard enough off the ball and trying to force things that weren't there. It was made even more disappointing when even though a goal from workaholic Meadow put us in charge of the game, we didn't control it and gave up late goals. The scoreline may have suggested it was our best game but if we want to improve over the coming seasons and years the result cannot always be the focus. We must play in the right way, with intellect and control. There is a difference between going fast and going quickly. It was demanded that they know this for the next day.
Sunday was always going to be a tough day, with games against the giants of South Jersey Edge Pink and the genius of WC Eagles' top team. In the end experience told, but I must say that I was over the moon with our response from the Saturday. Even if the scores suggest otherwise. Our hockey was better, it was smarter and our work-rate was higher - we will learn great things from these two games. In goal, Kayla really showed what she can do, including a great save from a penalty stroke against WC Eagles. Aryana played just about every position and created countless problems for the opponents with her attacking play. Julia also played four different positions and was as consistent as ever, putting pressure on her opponents all over the field. Amanda continued her excellent tournament at left-back and excelled even with a cold that reduced her oxygen intake by about 90%. I felt your pain, Amanda! Meadow became a marked player for us, as she will be forever, but showed some incredible skills to get us out of the pressure and continually created chances. Ahead of them we asked Emily, Adeline and Claire to really work hard off the ball to get into spaces and limit the space for the opponents. They did this fantastically well and even played into a new defensive system. They were awesome, with Emily in particular having her best game as a Knight. The experience will be of great benefit to our U14 players, Adeline and Claire - it was a big step up in terms of pace but they acquitted themselves wonderfully and were fantastic team mates who played great hockey.
Overall there were some frustrations from both players and coach. We did some brilliant things and did some things that we need to learn from. But we don't play with the expectation we won't improve. For me, I left the tournament with the knowledge that this group is going to play a lot of hockey together in the future. The are going to win some and they are going to lose some, but this tournament made them better individuals and a far better team. They were a pleasure. They were Knights.
In other news, thank you to the Horans for arranging an unreal Amish lunch. I have yet to eat since Saturday. And a huge thank you to the Silva's for the amazing cake. Photos were on Instagram and Twitter but not sure they made it to Facebook. I will add some. Thank you also to the Hegarty's for the t-shirts and the photography and thank you again to Mrs Cantaffa for bringing a cheerful Talia. Did I say cheerful?? Thank you to all the other parents, aunts, uncles, friends and siblings (hope your eye is OK, McKenna) who joined us in darkest PA and allowed the Knights this amazing experience in our first season as a club.
We can't promise the Knights will make it to the NIT again (of course we will) and we can't promise that Knights players will make it to the Olympics (they probably will) but we can promise that our players will work hard and will get better. And we always expect them to be good, supportive team mates. This team is just the beginning, the benchmark. Thank you to you all. And congratulations.