Esha Shah loaded up another rocket in the slot, the ball dribbling her way with the punctuating dagger in sight. The junior has scored in nearly every game for Mt. Hebron field hockey this season, keying another Vikings postseason run as a top seed and serving as a large component to her team’s unblemished record in October.
Last season, at this very same stage — the Class 3A East region, Section II final — Shah and Mt. Hebron outplayed Centennial from start to finish but needed a tense, late-game push to finally put away their cross-town opponent to reach the region final.
So, as the Shah-led Vikings prepared for another go-around with the Eagles on a blustery Monday evening at home, the emphasis was to throttle down and hang nothing in the balance. Shah ultimately sizzled that straightaway opportunity into the back of the net for a hat trick, which ignited a running clock and polished an effort they sought after: a 5-0 win over Centennial and a third straight trip to the 3A East region title game.
“We knew we didn’t want to repeat that game again and we couldn’t lay off,” Shah said. “We wanted to come out in full force and we set that goal.”
Last year, the meeting between the two was tied at the half, even though the Vikings (10-6) dominated the time of possession. Three second-half goals eventually lifted the Vikings to a 4-1 win and to the next round before they were ousted by Chesapeake, and the two teams will meet for a rematch on Wednesday with another chance to get to the state tournament. The location will be determined by a coin flip.
No matter where the Vikings play, things are rolling much smoother this time around. This latest triumph marks the seventh win in a row for Mt. Hebron, a stretch in which they’ve allowed just five goals.
It didn’t take long for Shah and Vikings to keep the momentum going Monday. Before the game was four minutes old, Mt. Hebron generated a pair of corner chances, and on the second, a one-touch pass from Haley Kampert setup Shah’s first score — a bullet from the right wing that loudly made contact with the back of the goal.
Seven minutes later, Shah whistled her second shot attempt past Centennial goalie Casey Stratton, making the contest 2-0.
“When I position to score, I just know when it’s going to go in the back of the cage,” Shah said. “You just get that feeling.”
Not long after that, sophomore Mia Holland added a pair of goals. Her first came at the 13:20 mark, when she batted a saucer pass from Ellie Miller into the net, a textbook display of hand-eye coordination that gave the Vikings a comfortable 3-0 lead.
“I was kind of in the right place at the right time and then just batted it in,” said Holland, who added another score five minutes later when a shot deflected off an opponent’s stick.
By that point, Mt. Hebron led 4-0 at the half and outshot Centennial, 7-2. Minutes later, Shah rifled the dagger and the Vikings celebrated their most complete win to date.
Centennial (6-10), meanwhile, could never possess long enough to get into a rhythm. For the game, they were outshot 11-3 and only generated a two-minute spurt of multiple shots at the goal. The Eagles had three straight corners from the 7:30 mark to the 5:30 mark in the second, only to have them get smothered by a red-hot Mt. Hebron defense.
Eagles coach Lizz Engle credited Mt. Hebron’s sound ball movement on the right side of the field, which “took us a half to figure out.”
Of the 22 varsity players, 16 are set to return next year, an encouraging number for the second-year coach who continues to keep Centennial field hockey moving in the right direction.
“We came a really long way playing as a team, supporting each other,” Engle said. “I’m just proud to be their coach. They work hard. … We’ll miss [the six seniors], but I’m excited to have some of the same girls back next year.”
Hailey Conklin recorded two saves for Mt. Hebron, which looks to take another step toward its first field hockey championship in school history.
“[Chesapeake], they’re good,” Vikings coach Jeanette Ireland said. “You have to bring your A-game.”
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports