Practice makes perfect. This may sound like an overused cliché frequently uttered by head coaches, but it came true for field hockey in a hot and muggy, 2-1, overtime win Saturday afternoon against Columbia at Schoellkopf Field.
Knotted, 1-1, at 4:26 into overtime, junior attacker Alyssa DePaola ripped a shot into the bottom right corner of the net for the game-winner. DePaola was set up by junior defender Stephanie Brownstein, who shredded the Lions’ defense en route to taking the ball the distance of the field. With one defender left in her path, Brownstein passed the ball ahead to DePaola, much as the team had practiced earlier in the week.
“I wasn’t really thinking when it happened,” DePaola said. “I just saw the goalie and I remember coach always yelling at me last year for not pulling around the goalie, and to just be poised. So I just kind of pulled and slipped it under and it went in.”
Columbia goalkeeper Gena Miller was a solid line of defense for the Lions all day, saving six shots in regulation, but it was the shot she missed in overtime that proved to be the most costly.
“I saw her and I knew she was going to go down and I knew if I hit it into her she would just rebound it off,” DePaola said. “So I just pulled around her and went to the right. It was really good to win our first Ivy League game. It was a tough game. We were really pushing it and they’re a real physical team.”
After a scoreless first half in which both teams failed to convert on multiple penalty corners, junior defender Helena Haas rocketed a pass from freshman midfielder Kate Thompson past the left ear of Miller, the Columbia goalie.
“I don’t know if she [Thompson] was shooting or not,” Haas said. “She had the ball and I think she shot. And, usually on shots I come in and tip. The ball was coming at me and I just tipped it in and it hit the back of the net.”
Although there were over 31 minutes left in the second half, Haas’ goal staked the Red to a 1-0 lead, which appeared to be all they would need.
“[Going ahead 1-0] was a great feeling,” Haas said. “Our team plays really well when we are up. It was good to get that goal under our belt so we could really start to play.”
However, the one goal advantage evaporated when Columbia senior forward Lauren Hanna scored on a 14-hopper that bounced over Cornell and Columbia players alike and finally over Cornell goalie Shannon Prescott’s outstretched left leg.
“It was off-speed and sometimes it’s harder to stop something like that,” said Cornell head coach Donna Hornibrook. “When it’s a direct shot, it’s pretty consistent to what you will see in practice, but this shot skipped off the turf like a knuckleball almost.”
With nearly 16 minutes left in regulation, each team had equal scoring opportunities, but failed to capitalize on them. Perhaps, the most costly missed opportunity came during the 29th minute of play in the second half when Columbia had three corners in a span of 60 seconds and failed to convert.
“I think the way to describe it today is we bent, but we didn’t break,” Hornibrook said. “We definitely weathered pressure, we weathered the storm. I think that’s a lesson for us. It was a pretty win for us today by any stretch, but we pulled it out.”
According to assistant coach Mary McCracken, the Red were able to pull it out because the game winning circumstances were something the team had worked on in practice earlier in the week.
“Making possession passes was something we worked on the other day,” McCracken said. “And Steph [Brownstein] released to Alyssa [DePoala] and they executed what we had practiced, which is definitely exciting for a coach. It was a hot day today, but I thought we were able to make substitutions and not lose too much continuity. I thought that their fitness just held up and when you get into overtime [along with] the heat, [it was impressive] they didn’t lose their stamina. They have trained hard, so hopefully they feel good about that because this is what you work for. It’s a good start to the season, but if you don’t have everybody pushing each other in practice, you’re not going to be as successful in games like this.”