by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle 10-20-2013
NEWPORT — Saturday morning’s match between the North Country Falcons (7-3-3) and the visiting St. Johnsbury Academy Hilltoppers (2-9-2) was a fitting regular season finale for both squads. While both sides flashed moments of offensive brilliance, the attack was outshone by the defensive prowess of the game’s two goalies — Falcon Myrriah Gonyaw and Hilltopper Grace Desrochers.
Falcons Coach Chantelle Bouchard was pleasantly surprised to learn that St. Johnsbury’s goaltender was a JV call-up, brought in to replace injured starter Bea Brody.
“I would not have guessed she was a sophomore,” Coach Bouchard said. “I will give St. Jay credit for how they played today. They’ve gotten stronger as the season went on.”
Desrochers’ performance was perhaps best exemplified by a jumping deflection on a high, arcing shot from Falcon Brittany Verge with 5:08 to play in the second half. Had Desrochers mistimed the jump, the ball would have scored and set up the Falcons for the win.
“We’ve been working on aerials for a while in JV,” Desrochers said after the game. “I guess that really paid off on that play. It was just unbelievable.”
The Falcons were the first to strike as Verge converted a soft hop from Morgan Greene into a goal with 12:20 remaining in the first half. Verge’s goal capped an intense effort to break the Hilltopper defense and clear a lane on Desrochers.
“We had really good pressure on offense the whole game,” Coach Bouchard said. “I think the girls played really well today. We just had problems finding the back of the net.”
Finding the back of the net was particularly difficult on account of Desrochers’ aggressive play. Even when the Falcons created man-advantage rushes, Desrochers was still willing to move out and challenge for control of the ball.
“I guess I am a little aggressive on the play,” Desrochers said. “But it comes down to how comfortable I am that my defense has got my back. I was really comfortable with them out there today.”
St. Johnsbury would tie up the game as Danielle Martin won a scramble in front of the Falcon net to finally beat Gonyaw with 6:47 to play in the first half. Martin’s goal came on an assist from Megan Wood.
While Gonyaw was less likely to rush the ball carrier to break up plays, the Falcon defense also created a tight screen to reduce the number of shots Gonyaw was forced to defend. That left Gonyaw free to focus on the unavoidable shots which she turned aside with familiar frequency.
“Myrriah kept us in the game and the offense gave us the chances to win,” Coach Bouchard said. “I really couldn’t ask for the girls to do more than that.”
The tie has helped cement North Country’s position as the number three seed in DII heading into the playoffs. With Bellows Falls and Stowe as the number one and number two seeds above and Milton and Lyndon institute as the number four and five seeds, the results of Saturday’s contest would not have altered North Country’s position in the standings, Coach Bouchard said.
“We still go out there to win, but it wouldn’t have changed anything for us,” Coach Bouchard said.
The intensity of the Falcons’ play bodes well for North Country’s chances in the playoffs. The big unknown at this point is what the competition will look like as the playoffs progress. Never having faced Fair Haven nor Bellows Falls during the regular season, it’s difficult to know how, if at all, the Falcons might need to adjust their basic strategy.
“We just have to play the same game we’ve played all season,” Coach Bouchard said. “It’s gotten us this far and I believe it will take us even further. Last year we beat Bellows Falls down there so we just play hard and see if we can do it again.”