Through a rollercoaster first couple weeks of the season, a stretch that has seen an equal number of wins and losses, Howard coach Katelyn Joyce has spent a lot of time talking with her team about mental toughness.
On a wet evening Friday night against visiting Mt. Hebron, the Lions answered the call.
Overcoming a dominant effort from the Vikings on the draw (14-6) and playing the entire second half without standout junior Kelly Schluederberg (two yellow cards), Howard pulled together to earn a statement 12-7 victory.
“We’ve focused so much on the mental toughness aspect of the game, how to bounce back when we make a mistake or when something doesn’t go our way. And I think they really stepped up to the challenge of that today,” Joyce said. “They played as a unit on both ends, slid when they needed to and looked to make the extra pass. Defensively, in particular, I could not be more proud of how much we’ve improved since the beginning of the season.”
It was definitely the defense that kick-started things for Howard (2-1, 3-3) against Mt. Hebron (1-2, 2-3).
The Vikings won the opening draw and earned a free-position opportunity on their first possession. But, as she went on to do most of the evening, Lions’ goalie Rachel Murphy (9 saves) made a huge stop that led to her team being able to transition up the field.
Less than a minute later, Howard scored the first goal of the game when Shea O’Connor found Jenna Peed in front of the net. It turned out to be a sign of things to come.
Peed finished with four goals overall and O’Connor tallied a team-high five assists to go with a pair of scores of her own. As a team, eight of Howard’s 12 goals were assisted.
“This week in practice we’ve been really focusing on that … assists rather than goals,” O’Connor said. “Rather than driving, we look for the feed and it’s really helping us work together.”
Despite winning plenty of possession, Mt. Hebron simply never managed to build any momentum until the hole on the scoreboard was too large to overcome. Howard never trailed at any point and by halftime the Lions’ lead had grown to 6-1.
The Vikings did build a little momentum after intermission, led overall by four goals from Ashley Unkenholz, but never managed to cut their deficit to fewer than four at any point down the stretch.
“Our draw unit played lights out, they left it all on the field. But this is a game of possession and when you have the ball it needs to be valued,” Mt. Hebron coach Lindsay Menton said. “We didn’t capitalize on our opportunities and had far too many turnovers, which ultimately is why we found ourselves in that hole early.”
Joyce credited the entire defense, in particular praising the effort of junior Katie Sloan in terms of causing six turnovers and getting the ball up to the offensive unit.
Before picking up her second yellow card with 3:48 left in the first half, Schluederberg scored twice. Other offensive standouts for the Lions included Leah Spalding (2 goals, assist) and Ellie Wiechert (one goal, one assist).
Howard will look to keep the momentum going on Tuesday against Broadneck.
“We finally started hitting our groove tonight and realizing what things exactly worked for us. Now it’s a matter of recognizing those things that worked in our favor and keeping it going consistently,” Joyce said.
Howard (2-1, 3-3) — 12, Mt. Hebron (1-1, 2-2) — 7
Goals: Ho — Peed 4, O’Connor 2, Schluederberg 2, Spalding 2, Rice 1, Wiechert 1; MH — Unkenholz 4, Miller 1, Suazo 1, Barke 1.
Assists: Ho — O’Connor 5, Hume 1, Spalding 1, Wiechert 1.
Saves: Ho — Murphy 9; MH — Ryan 6.