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Mt. Hebron field hockey overpowers Howard, builds momentum for final stretch

Each early-season loss brought more frustration for the Mt. Hebron field hockey team.

It started with a 2-1 overtime loss to fellow county power Marriotts Ridge on Sept. 11 and continued in a 4-3 defeat against Broadneck two days later. Against Arundel on Sept. 22, coach Jeannette Ireland said her team dominated in the first half of an eventual 4-1 loss. And most recently in an extra-time game against Glenelg, Mt. Hebron scored first — which Ireland said has not happened “in a long time” — before falling, 3-2, on Thursday afternoon.

But through all of the slim defeats against some of the state’s top programs, Ireland said her team seldom became discouraged. The Vikings remained positive by focusing on what they have done well — such as having stronger defensive play, more frequent scoring opportunities and better services near goal — while working to overcome youth and inexperience and improve their execution in the circle.

In the mind of its coach, Mt. Hebron “put it all together” in a home victory over Howard on Tuesday afternoon. The Vikings broke through for three goals by the opening minutes of the second period and rarely let the Lions into their defensive half en route to earning their second county victory by a score of 3-0.

“It’s the first team I’ve ever had with six sophomores, so it’s taken us a while,” Ireland said. “But I’m pleased. I thought we left a lot on the field in the first half, but hopefully we’ll start converting those opportunities.”

Mt. Hebron (2-2 county, 4-6 overall) scattered 10 shots on target across the first half alone and prevented the Howard (5-2, 6-3) from producing even one attempt. However, its offensive onslaught resulted in a single tally before intermission.

It came about six minutes into the contest when junior Ally DeBels took the Vikings’ third penalty corner and sent a pass to senior Eliza Munns at the top of the circle. After a few quick taps, Munns unloaded a strike that raced past goalkeeper Skylar Wishner’s outstretched left leg and slammed against the back of the cage.

Several factors derailed the Vikings’ other early scoring opportunities. Senior Ellie Miller constantly made deep runs down the right side yet her teammates could not successfully redirect her multitude of crosses. On other occasions, Vikings’ attackers dribbled into traffic or committed errors that gave Howard possession. Sometimes, Wishner (13 saves) just proved unbeatable for the Lions, who entered Tuesday’s tilt on a five-game winning streak.

“Defense definitely stepped up,” Howard coach Courtney Sprissler said. “All of them were on point, and our goalie, Skylar [Wishner], she definitely saved us a lot. She had some amazing saves.”

The point of emphasis for Mt. Hebron at halftime was an obvious one: convert chances around the cage. And it did not take long for the Vikings to accomplish that task.

With 23 minutes, 45 seconds to play, Munns scored again from the top of the circle off a penalty corner, this time taking the feed from sophomore Ashley Unkenholz and sending a grounder towards the left side of the cage. The ball skidded past Wishner, then deflected off the stick of a Howard defender and dribbled across the end line before the Lions could clear it out.

Mt. Hebron scored again about two minutes later, finally converting one of Miller’s precision passes. Getting on the cross was senior Sophie Freedman, whose quick redirect was too accurate and well-timed for any defender to stop.

The victory is the Vikings’ second in three games, and a winning streak could be on the horizon based on their remaining regular season schedule. They travel to Centennial on Thursday and then battle River Hill, Reservoir and Catonsville before beginning what they hope becomes a deep postseason run.

“This game was a big momentum boost for us,” Munns said. “We’re going to use this positivity and energy and we’re going to carry it through the rest of our season, hoping to go undefeated.”

Mt. Hebron (2-2, 4-6) — 3, Howard (5-2, 6-3) — 0

Goals: MH — Eliza Munns 2, Sophie Freedman.

Assists: MH — Ally DeBels, Ellie Miller, Ashley Unkenholz.

Saves: MH — Hailey Conklin 2; Ho — Skylar Wishner 13.

Halftime: 1-0, MH

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