Much of River Hill field hockey's scoring offense in the circle revolves around sharp, quick passes. Whether off a corner or in the run of play, the Hawks keep opposing defenses off balance with frequent ball movement. The tactic often results in open shots, which coach Shelly Chamness' team has capitalized on plenty of times entering Tuesday's game at Centennial.
But River Hill couldn't rely on that game plan in its 3-0 win over the Eagles. The thick grass slowed down passes for both sides, something Chamness said "threw off" her players in the circle. Used to playing on turf, the Hawks struggled to create their typical chances around net and never rebounded. They went scoreless on 14 corners.
Instead, River Hill rode the scoring prowess of Gaby Hamburger and the play-making ability of sophomore Quinn Kindbom. Hamburger, who led the county in points (82) last season, notched a hat trick, while Kindbom tallied two assists in a game that appeared more onesided than the final score led on. The Hawks put roughly two dozen shots on goal compared to just one for Centennial.
"It's hard when what you normally do isn't working, and I don't think we made that many adjustments," Chamness said. "Gaby just kind of put us on her back to make it happen."
Having started Hamburger since her freshman year, Chamness knows better than most what she's capable of. The veteran coach said her scoring phenom has the athleticism and "champion mindset" that can't be taught, and she's displayed those traits the past four years while improving every season. On Tuesday, Hamburger's individual effort resulted in all of the scoring production the Hawks (2-0, 6-2-1) needed.
Her first goal occurred about six minutes into the contest, a point-blank strike that came off a pass from Kindbom. The Hawks had already unloaded several shots on goal by that point, so it seemed like only a matter of time before they broke through. The domination continued throughout the first half.
However, more goals didn't follow. River Hill managed 15 shots and forced senior goalkeeper Meg Thompson to make 10 saves but boasted only one score.
Centennial, despite not recording a shot, entered halftime within a goal.
"Meg [Thompson] did a really, really great job of keeping her head" coach Lizz Engle said, "and not letting it get to her that they were able to get a lot of shots off."
"She's playing with such maturity as a senior that I think it has almost surprised us even," assistant coach Sadie Rockefeller added.
Thompson made seven more saves for Centennial (4-3, 5-4) after halftime, but not before Hamburger added two more goals. Freshman Lindsey Miller assisted on the first one with about 25 minutes to play. Moments later, Kindbom and her veteran counterpart pieced together a nifty scoring sequence.
Kindbom seemed to have the ball at her stick constantly during Tuesday's game, dribbling by defenders to set up her attacking players. This situation was no different. She saw Hamburger streaking downfield, and without hesitation sent a perfect lead pass with multiple Centennial defenders in pursuit.
"I've said this multiple times. I think Quinn [Kindbom] is the best player I've ever had," said Chamness, who is in her 18th season as the River Hill coach. "When she's on, she can get it past most people."
In this instance, the ball found Hamburger's stick between two Eagles. And without much room to work with, Hamburger began to operate. She split the defenders, beat the goalie and sent a shot on goal.
The attempt whizzed past another Centennial player manning the end line and pierced the back of the cage.