Story by Laura Jones
A scrappy Dexter field hockey team took the field in one of two Michigan field hockey state semifinals matches Thursday at Pioneer High School in a rematch of last year’s state championship match between the Dreadnaughts and Pioneers.
The Dreadnaughts, who fell to Pioneer in the finals last year, returned the favor in this year’s semifinals, living up to their namesake and “fear nothing.”
After the two teams played to a 2-2 tie in regulation and overtime the game came down a shootout and Dexter scored a 3-1 victory to advance to the championship game. The Dreadnaughts will face Ann Arbor Huron at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Huron High School.
The Dreads played fearlessly, having come with the idea to win planted firmly in their minds. The bond these young women have with each other was tangible, and their game showed the heart they play with. When a shot went wide, it’s the players you heard first shouting ‘unlucky’ or ‘shake it off’ to bolster their teammate. When someone missed a tackle, more often than not you saw another Dread running up to make good on the play.
They all had legs that just would not quit. These are the things that make good teams win against very tough opponents, and last night, Dexter had both the teamwork and the tough opponent in the three-peat state champion Pioneers.
The first half saw a great deal of back and forth play, with chances to score coming early for both teams. A goal by Pioneer was called off by the officials, driving Dexter to push hard into the scoring circle in response.
Dexter capitalized on performances by players from each class. Freshman 10 Abby Tamer placed a great shot into the circle, which was directed by sophomore Claire Vaughn to her teammate senior Alyssa Gilson. Gilson approached the goal but found a wall of white Pioneer jerseys, and no shot.
A smart move by Gilson saw her pass back behind herself to junior Kylie Richards, keeping the ball in Dreadnaught possession despite the sea of Pioneer defenders.
Richards made some moves to put the ball into better position for an angle at the goal, and after shucking defenders, she hit the ball at the goal, only to find another new Pioneer defender in her way. Pioneer intercepted, but Richards had no intention of letting the chance pass by and stripped the ball from the defender.
As she looked up, freshman Rachel Gesell was standing several yards away in exactly the right position to score. Richards smartly sent the ball to her and Gesell, the JV pull up, deftly knocked it in for the first score of the game.
If someone wanted to name that play, it might be called “smart, unselfish team play by every class…to score” or simply “unified team.” It was something to see.
With that, the game was fully on. A battle between these two teams made it clear the match up was as good as it has ever been between them, and that the victors would not be easily clear.
The next 20 minutes saw intense play at both ends, with scoring chances for both teams thwarted by their opposing defenses. Corners on both sides were unproductive. Dexter put a hard press on every possession by the Pioneers and were successful in putting turnovers into the scoring circle repeatedly, but could not convert again before the half.
With Dexter leading 1-0, the second half picked up right where the first half had closed out. Just 4 minutes into play, Pioneer was able to draw a penalty corner on a congested play in the Dexter circle. They connected with a shot that edged by the Dexter keeper to tie up the game.
No Dreadnaught thought this was going to be other than a fight to the end, and they were right. So they were unsurprised to see Pioneer score and went straight back to the hard work of scoring again themselves with no visible recriminations or shaken moments. It was just time to work harder.
Dexter attacked the Pioneer circle repeatedly, until an onslaught by freshmen Tamer and Niswonger as a duo worked to draw a corner. Tamer converted that corner on a solid insert by freshman Shannon Schoch, with a looping air lift that sailed in right behind Pioneer’s keeper to give Dexter the lead again.
The next 10 minutes of the half were spent with back-and-forth action. Corner opportunities for Pioneer came several times, but Dexter’s defensive line held them off, unable to score. Dexter attacked Pioneer’s circle with similar results.
With 9 minutes remaining in the game, Pioneer’s offense made a full attack on Dexter’s goal, with a nice shot to the inside, picked up and scored by Pioneer to tie the game. This left both teams facing an even game as if the prior 50 minutes had never happened. Both teams were running on adrenaline and grit.
With legs that must have been screaming, both teams continued the battle to win the game in regulation. It was not to be, with neither side willing to cede ground enough for scoring. Regular time ran out tied at 2-2.
Overtime is a regulated 10 minutes on a reduced roster of seven players per side. Dexter put forward a fierce seven in Kylee Niswonger, Abby Tamer, Claire Vaughn, Marin Waddington, Skyler Waddington, Maeve Donnevan and Keeper Maggie Jones.
Playoff games cannot end in a tie. There must be an outright winner. The guarantee of that outcome for well-matched teams is the shootout. Loved by some, hated by others, none the less, always yielding one winner by scoring goals. Best of five shots taken in a 10 second time limit, one-on-one with the opposing keeper. At a whistle start, the attacker takes the ball to the goal and tries to score. The keeper comes out to meet the attacker and has one thing in mind, stopping the shot and clearing the ball until the whistle blows again in 10 seconds. It’s a no holds barred, anything goes 10 seconds of pure field hockey.
Dexter opened with senior Maeve Donnevan, who capitalized on her chance to score against Pioneer’s Mimi Mainer in goal to make it 1-0. Next up, Rachel Ruttenburg for Pioneer attacked Dexter’s sophomore keeper Maggie Jones, but found herself unable to gain the net.
Second attack for Dexter came from freshman Kylee Niswonger, who slid her shot safely into the goal to make it 2-0 Dexter.
Pioneers next shot by Isa Keen connected past Jones to make it 2-1 Dexter. Abby Tamer took her run at Mainer and came up just wide, still 2-1 Dexter.
Pioneer put Andie Tappenden up next but Jones stonewalled her entire run at the goal, leaving her no shot to keep her team in the lead. Sophomore Claire Vaughn looked to close out the contest with a well-placed shot in her run as the fourth shooter for Dexter. Her shot went straight on, but was caught by Mainer and deflected, just missing the cage.
Pioneer’s next shooter, Anna Muckstadt, made a good run at the goal, but was met half way by Jones. A stick tackle by the Dexter goalie pushed Muckstadt’s attack off angle, and made her follow through shot go wide of the goal.
Dexter was still leading 2-1 with one shooter for each side remaining.
The pressure did not seem to affect senior Marin Waddington as she stepped up for her attack. “Calm and measured” seem the best words to describe her run, pulling the keeper to her as she swept in a well angled arc to the keepers left. Mainer laid out to block the shot by Waddington, stopping the momentum of the ball.
With seconds remaining, Waddington kept her composure and did not panic. She pulled herself into the right angle for a shot on goal, angled her stick and fired it in. The goal made it 3-1 and sealed the deal as the Dreads closed the game out the way they came into it, cool, aggressive and unified. One team. All hands. One goal.