WATERVILLE — When the Waterville field hockey team assembled in the preseason, it was not only short on numbers, it was short on goalies.
As in, it didn’t have a goalie.
Senior Val Spaulding, normally a back, volunteered to play goal and automatically won the starting job. Spaulding is coming along, and on Thursday afternoon, she played probably her best game of the season, making several tough saves in the second half as Waterville held on for a 1-0 victory over Mt. Blue.
“Their goalie had some excellent stops,” Mt. Blue coach Jody Harmon said. “We definitely had our opportunities. We were ready to attack. We had several chances, but the ball just didn’t go our way.”
Waterville (5-3) got contributions from several players to build and protect the lead. Bri Bernier, Jenna Gagnon, and Jena Nawfel each made fine individual plays to stop Mt. Blue’s momentum in the circle. With 51 seconds left in the first half, Nawfel took a shot from the top of the circle on a penalty corner that went off the stick of a Mt. Blue defender and into the cage for a 1-0 Waterville lead.
Rileigh Blanchet made some nice saves in the Mt. Blue goal to keep it a one-goal game, and then the Cougars (3-4) made their move toward the end of the second half. With under 10 minutes left, Mikayla Oswald teed up a high-quality shot, but Spaulding dove to her left and batted the shot away. Spaulding said it was the first time she dove to make a save in a varsity game.
“I haven’t been able to do it yet,” Spaulding said. “Today was the first time, and it saved me. The ball had come, and I didn’t have enough time to get my feet over. So I threw my body, and my stick saved the ball.”
The Purple Panthers weren’t out of the woods yet. Mt. Blue got back-to-back-to-back penalty corners with less than 2 1/2 minutes to play. On the first Alyssa Williams rocketed a shot from outside the circle on the left side. The ball ricocheted off a crowd of players and directly off Spaulding’s leg pads. Spaulding said she didn’t see the ball as it came out of the crowd.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Spaulding said. “It just happened, and then I came back again and I hit it.”
There would have been quite an interesting discussion if the ball had gone into the cage. The goal would not have been legal unless a Mt. Blue player had touched the ball in the circle, and in the mass of bodies, it wasn’t clear whether that happened.
But after all that, it was a big win for the Panthers, who are still in the playoff race in Eastern B. Waterville used 13 players, and not everyone was at full strength. Gagnon went out for a few minutes after taking a stick to the ankle, and Sage Duguay has been battling illness lately.
“They showed a lot of heart, a lot of grit, a lot of determination,” Waterville coach Ashley Pullen said.