The captains of the 2017 Bellows Falls Division II Vermont State Championship Field Hockey team agree on two things unanimously. Hartford and Burr & Burton both qualified as rivalry intense games in their championship drive for a threepeat this fall and they all were possessed of a fear of losing. Neither Hartford nor Burr & Burton put any blemishes on their perfect season, and their constant fear was never realized. The program has won 40 games in a row and the beat goes on.
“I was nervous ever since the season began,” Tri Captain Paxton Santorelli said. “Every season I get nervous; I don’t even know why. I’m always afraid we are going to lose a game, especially with the winning streak.”
Reaghan Baldasaro, another tri leader, chimed in, “I was unsure at the start because we were going up a division. We beat the Division II champions [Springfield] last year, but it was all so new to us. I was nervous all season about the championship. I didn’t want to end my senior year with a loss. That was a driving force for all the intensity we put into practices and games all season long.”
“Each season and each game you are starting all over again,” Tri Captain Dani Marchica added. She went on, “From the start, we had so many expectations for our teammates, our selves, our coaches, we asked ourselves ‘can we do it again?’ This year was so emotional. Our coaches would push us as much as they can to make us be the best that we can.”
The ultimate leader of this team and program, coach Bethany Coursen, had everything in perspective from the start. She told me, “I’m sure that fear they had came from the fact they haven’t lost for so long. Keeping sharp is very important, and they were able to do that. Some of our followers don’t understand how difficult it is to keep a streak like this going. One strongly sports oriented person said that the girls weren’t learning anything because they haven’t lost. They [meaning many followers and fans] will never understand what you learn when you push through things to keep a steak going like this.”
Hartford and Burr & Burton were certainly the games that grabbed the Terriers girls’ attention. Taking away those four encounters Bellows Falls went 10-0 and outscored the opponents 72-2. There were no games in which the verdict was ever seriously in doubt, but the four clashes with Hartford and Burr & Burton produced a much more down-to-earth total of 22-2.
There was a strong hint in the pre-season that the Bellows Falls team would be tough to challenge at all. Coursen lined up a scrimmage with perennial Division I power South Burlington on the Wolves turf and Bellows Falls came out on top 2-1. It was a scrimmage, but both sides knew at the very least, the friendly game produced a level of competition, which should lead Coursen’s team to the top of the Division II pack.
South Burlington and Vermont Field Hockey dominance are one and the same. On the day a couple of weeks ago that Bellows Falls won the title game, convincingly, South Burlington threepeated in Division I. It was the second time the Wolves had turned in such a feat this century. South Burlington has advanced to 11 Division I finals in the past 16 years and won eight of them. No other Division I program is even close to those numbers. The job Coursen has done building the program in Bellows Falls is a similar story. The Terriers and the Wolves are the hierarchy of the sport in Vermont today.
The Bellows Falls schedule had the first three contests on the road this fall. They opened with an 8-0 victory over defending Division II champion Springfield 8-0. Then there was another shutout at Division I Mount Anthony 5-0.
Next, Division I Hartford was waiting, and Baldasaro said, “There was some unfinished business from last year when our game got rained out and couldn’t be rescheduled so that came into play with how big the game was. It turned out awesome.”
Marchica could hardly be contained with her answer on this subject. She said, “We were on fire. I have never seen us play so well. We clicked, and we passed. We shot, and we played awesome defense. Everything in that game that we wanted to happen, happened. It was beyond what we expected. It was a game we wanted to win so badly. And when we did, it was like holy cow! It was amazing, and that’s the feeling you want to feel every time you win. That’s the kind of game you dream you have every time.”
Santorelli had her own way of describing the same picture. She started out, “Everything about it was just flawless. If something went wrong, there was someone there to fix it. Sometimes, we have let down in other games, but this game, everyone had the same mentality all the way through to really beat them.”
Bellows Falls and Hartford have had their own special rivalry over the years. Once upon a time, they were both Division II, and they had some really big games. They played a classic in the 1989 championship game when they played forever and were finally declared co-champs following their 0-0 tie. If people see Jayne Barber, ask her about that one. The same coach, who went against the Terriers in that one, was on the sidelines this year.
Coursen was elated by the magical performance in the big victory in Hartford. “I was confident going in, but I can’t say I saw that performance coming. I think their drive was intense at times, it even sometimes made them not trust each other, but they played amazing that day. It gave them the confidence they could play with anybody,” she told me.
High school sports can be a game of emotion, and the feeling of the Hartford win likely allowed the bus to return home without the wheels ever touching the ground for the home opener. Burr & Burton was waiting for the first home contest. The combination of the feeling gained in White River Junction and playing on their home turf for the first time in the 2017 season made for a tough day for a decent Burr & Burton team 8-1. The only consolation for the Bulldogs was they scored the first goal against Bellow Falls for the season.
Hartford was staring at the Terriers at home in game number five. The Terrier girls were still flying high and did one better than their game a week earlier, this time prevailing 5-0. One road game at Rutland, a 6-1 triumph, interrupted three out of four games at home. Then it was 9-0 and 8-0 at home over Mount Anthony and Fair Haven respectively at home.
There was some excitement statewide and especially in Windsor for the season’s tenth game. The Windsor Yellow Jackets, sitting on top of the Division III pack where the Terriers had sat one year prior – were coming to the Bellows Falls to challenge them. They had lost their opener to Division II challenger Otter Valley 2-1 and ran off six straight victories since. Bellows Falls and Otter Valley don’t meet, so this was the biggest measuring stick the Terriers would have in Division II top three competition. The ruler burned up.
Bellows Falls controlled Windsor from start to finish for a 10-1 victory and established themselves as the team to beat in Division II. Spaulding would finish 12-1-2 in second place in the state seedings, and Otter Valley 9-2-2. But now it was quite clear that it would likely take a cold day in some place other than Vermont to find the Terriers on the losing side of a score.
Bellows Falls would finish the regular campaign with four more victories, at Brattleboro 5-0, at home versus Fair Haven 8-0, again on the road at Burr & Burton 5-1, before completing their second straight unbeaten season at home on Senior Day versus Brattleboro 6-0.
There was, however, a bump in the road at Burr & Burton. Coursen’s team was 12-0 when they took the field in Manchester. Nothing anyone had seen on the field would make you think they could be challenged. And then…
“It was my fault,” Baldasaro said. “It was their Senior Day, and it finally hit me that I am a senior too, so I started crying. I got very upset that I only had a few more games left. You know when one person starts crying, just about everybody starts crying, and Bethany finally said if I see one more tear you are going to sit on the bench.”
There may not have been more tears, but the Terriers likely carried their emotions on to the field in one way or another because when intermission came Burr & Burton led 1-0. Is it possible, if you didn’t already know the answer, they could in some way beat themselves?
They caught their usual fire following halftime, kept the Bulldogs away from their goal, and put up five tallies themselves on the way to a 5-1 triumph. Then they rode home to face their own Senior Day.
“I certainly remember that moment,” Coursen said of the Burr & Burton meltdown. “I told them if they let their emotions rule that they would get beat.” You can see they didn’t let that happen. Their own Senior Day saw no challenge at all from Brattleboro, and the Terriers ran away and hid 6-0.
The exact same score popped up its head in the opening round of the post season. The Purple and White hosted Middlebury and won 6-0. Junior Abbe Cravinho had four assists and a goal to lead the way. Baldasaro and Marcica each tallied two goals, and junior Molly Kelly had the final one.
An improved Burr & Burton team was waiting in the semis and Bellows Falls shut them out this time 3-0, but the contest was not easy. The shutout was the big step for the Terriers. Meeting any team three times in a season is always difficult, but a team that gets better each time is a little scarier. The Bulldogs scored half the goals (2) the Terriers gave up in the regular season, so holding Burr & Burton without a goal on the way to the finals was something special for Bellows Falls.
Spaulding pressed the Terriers for a little less than two minutes dominating the start of the championship game, but then Bellows Falls picked up play. A little over a minute later, Madison Streeter netted the only goal that would be needed in a 6-0 title party. Molly Kelly and Abbe Cravinho would each have two goals and Marchica would have another. It was the more the merrier for the Bellows Falls team.
Bellows Falls’ biggest challenge all year was itself. They had an extremely talented team and as Coursen mentioned their emotions, which included their intensity in both a positive and negative way, was at its core.
“There were times I had to be mean,” Coursen said, citing the Baldasaro Burr & Burton situation. “The slow start at Burr & Burton was not Reg’s fault. There were just times – and that was one of them – when the team didn’t trust the process. They always meant well, but there are times when one tends to try to do too much. If you make a mistake, there will be someone there able and willing to help, especially between the forwards and the links and vice versa. At these times, they always didn’t pass enough. This is when they had to be reminded to trust what we are trying to do as a team.” While interviewing the tri-captains, they all appropriately pointed out the same exact thing.
Titles are about the sum of the team’s parts, adding up to be greater than that accumulated sum. Coursen broke down those individual parts for us on each player who played in the title game:
Paxton Santorelli did a great job as center back. She helped the new players in new positions and was a strong voice on the field.
Dani Marchica came into this season on a mission to dominate. She scored seven goals last season and 29 this year. She worked very hard in every practice and brought it all to the game each time she stepped on the field.
Reaghan Baldasaro was a very strong player this year. She worked hard and passed well and had an amazing cross in front of the net.
Sarah Scarlett is a positive ray of sunshine on the team. She works very hard and never complains. She is excited every time she steps on the field and does her best with a smile.
Kylie Comstock played in a few varsity games and did a great job. She had a terrific stop in the state game to save the shutout. Kylie always worked hard at practice and has great hand-eye coordination.
Emma Lober worked hard all season. She probably would have loved to have been a bit busier in the cage. Emma was a great communicator back there with her defense.
Abbe Cravhino had a great season. She made the MVL team and was the second highest scorer on the team. She worked very hard in games and in practices. She pushed herself and everyone around her to be the best they could. She was excited to score a goal in a state game and with 14 seconds left scored a second and the teams sixth to make sure there was no doubt that Bellows Falls Field Hockey came to play.
Sophia Hyslop was that quiet player that pushed herself and gave 110 percent all the time. When she was on the field, she made things happen. She had a great assist in the state game. She is a bundle of energy out on the field looking to do her best all the time.
Molly Kelly had a great season in the middle of the field. She combined with the players around her to have some great passing, scored 21 goals, and did it all with her long legs that bend in ways that no leg should bend.
Madison Streeter worked tirelessly at center link. She was a huge part of our offensive quarters and never stopped, not even after taking a ball to the head in the state game. I actually think she played better after the hit.
Brooke Bennett has great timing on attacking the ball in the backfield. Her approach is very good with her stick down. She had some great plays in the state game.
Michelle Marchica was a very strong link. I was lucky enough to have four solid links. I could switch them around left or right side, and she did a wonderful job. Michelle had a great game on the turf in Burlington.
Megan Banik worked very hard. She would enter the game and just play like she had been in the whole time. She is very aware of teammates around her and looks to pass when there is an opening.
Alice Salter-Roy is a link and does a great job switching in and out without missing a step. Alice gained more and more confidence in the position as the season progressed. She played very well against Spaulding.
Madi Joy was a link and a halfback. She worked very hard in both positions. She has lots of hussle. She has good timing on attacking the ball and never gives up.
Taylor Goodell moved from a forward to a halfback. She brought speed and desire to the field at any position she was put in. Taylor adjusted to halfback and learned the new spot quickly. She was a major part in the reason we had so many shutouts.
Meghan Kelly was my 4th link and did a good job. She worked very hard to earn a varsity spot and never stopped working hard all season. She was very good at working with the other links and defense in switching spots depending on where the ball was on the field.
Halie Dickerson also moved to defense from a forward. She picked it up very quickly. She has great timing and footwork and dodges around the opposing team to get the ball moved up the field.
Coursen pointed out she really enjoyed coaching this hardworking team and said she “is very proud of them. Going into the state title game, I had all the confidence in the world in them even with the slow start when they didn’t get off the bus for the first minute or so. I knew they were conditioned better, knew we could score, and knew they would come to play.”
The truth be told, the rest is history.
CORRECTION (Dec. 1, 2017 10:54 a.m.) The photo of Paxton Santorelli was added to the article.