Rice shuts down Terriers’ five-peat attempt

Bellows Falls’ field hockey advanced to the Division I Vermont State Championship game before bowing 4-0 to a strong Rice team. Pictured, Grace Wilkinson (5) and Maya Waryas (14) hope to make something happen for Bellows Falls. Photo by Doug MacPhee

BURLINGTON, Vt. – What would Championship Saturday be like in Vermont field hockey without a sighting of the Bellows Falls Terriers? Bethany Coursen’s purple-and-white charges have appeared in a title contest five years in a row and in six of the past seven seasons. The Bellows Falls Union High School bus seems to be on automatic pilot headed to Burlington each fall just before everyone turns back their clocks.

Despite predictions of the autumn of 2019 season playing out differently, a determined group of young ladies grew up during the stretch run and booked a return trip to the University of Vermont’s artificial turf to face a determined Rice team, who shut them out 4-0.

The real story of this team played out during the Division I postseason. Graduation losses from 2018’s four-peat title team left officials from BFUHS asking for alignment below the Division I level for the beginning of a new two-year alignment cycle this fall. Three Vermont state titles in a row had left Bellows Falls asking for a chance to compete last season in the Division I ranks, a request that was granted by the Vermont Principals Association. However, when Coursen’s team asked for a lower classification for the new cycle, the state’s Field Hockey Committee decided the Terriers needed to stay two more seasons in Division I, which has generally been standard operating procedure. The decision appeared to be mighty heavy for an incoming inexperienced cast of players who were hoping to fill the shoes of champions past.

This year’s edition of the Terriers carved out a 7-7 regular season record. The inexperience showed with a seasonal breakdown of the team going 5-0 against teams with losing records, but only 2-7 versus teams with winning records, which left most with the impression that the team would be one and done in the post season. The thing is, though, that nobody told the Division I sixth-seeded unit they weren’t expected to win at all in the sports tournament showcase event.

However, first, the Terriers traveled to number three South Burlington who had all the incentive in the world of eliminating Coursen’s team because the Rebels saw their Division I title dynasty ended by the Terriers one year ago.

Late first-half goals by Maya Waryas and Grace Wilkinson, assisted by Megan Kelly and Ashlynn Boucher, were what Bellows Falls needed and was the only scoring in a 2-0 upset.

This Cinderella Division I entry didn’t bow to the Division I second seed either. Having to face Champlain Valley Union in the semi-finals found goalie Jaia Caron and the Bellows Falls defense blanketing the northerners 1-0 for two straight shutouts, with both over two of the state’s top three teams. For the little engine of the purple train, which was suppose to be just not strong enough to compete at this level, the momentum kept growing. Waryas scored an early goal for the only tally in that game.

Unfortunately, shutout turned its head in the opponent’s direction in the state final. Rice scored early to take control, and in reality, Bellows Falls was never able to get going. Rice leading scorer Amy Hester found the net 10 minutes and 43 seconds into the encounter for the lead with Kate MacKenzie doubling the count to 2-0 fewer than 90 seconds later. The Terriers never really challenged. All of Bellows Fallls’ hopes were dashed when Kate Buckley made it 3-0 with 8:46 remaining in the game. Hester added a final tally with 3:56 showing on the clock.

After the game, Coursen admitted, “We couldn’t quite get in the flow of it today.”

Official final statistics had the southerners without a single official shot on goal and only one penalty corner. Rice had 11 shots on Caron and nine penalty corners. Bellows Falls only managed to have the ball inside the Rice attacking zone for six minutes of the 60-minute contest.

Coursen went on to say, “Today was a totally different situation than these girls had ever been in. There is a lot of pressure surrounding the last game of the season.”

This group of girls made this season more exciting than even their coach expected. She even managed a smile in admitting, “Of course I never expected when we began practice in August that this inexperienced group could get to the title game. Honestly, I think this team has been amazing. They worked hard all season to get better and better and were very supportive of each other. This team did a great job, deserved to be here today, because they earned it. I’m very proud of them.”

  Written by Bill Murphy, Eagle Times correspondent. Article courtesy of Eagle Times

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