Suffolk makes field hockey history

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 30, 2003

Back in the late 1990s, Nansemond River was a common contender in Eastern Region field hockey. Since the millennium began, Lakeland has represented Suffolk to the rest of the region on two occasions. But until Wednesday afternoon, this city had never sent both schools past Southeastern District competition in the same year.

According to public high school rules, each district is represented in regional competition by the winner of the district in the regular season and the winner of the district tournament. Should the two be one and the same, as has been the case for Lakeland the last two years, the second-place finisher in the tournament makes the trip. By winning their respective semifinal games in the district tournament Wednesday at the Virginia Beach Sports Complex, Lakeland and NRHS each moved to the final game, which will be played at 3 p.m. Friday. No matter who wins, both Suffolk schools will reach regionals.

Lakeland started the day with a convincing 4-0 defeat of Western Branch. Katelyn Smither had two goals and two assists in the victory. Unlike the fields of Southeastern district competition, the Complex’s field is artificial.

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&uot;I think everybody realized that we’re not going to get a lot of practice on artificial turf, so we had to practice some things,&uot; Smither said. &uot;That helped keep our intensity up (in the second half).

&uot;It’s definitely a different game on turf. You don’t have the normal bumps, and it’s so smooth that if you hit the ball, it just keeps going. You can’t hit it too hard or it goes out.&uot;

Smither didn’t have much trouble keeping up with the ball on his first goal. With eight minutes left in the first half, she stole the ball from an opposing player in Lakeland territory, and hurtled down the field. Dodging and outrunning several pursuing Lady Bruins, Smither soon found herself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. She didn’t hesitate, snapping off a shot into the net.

The Lady Cavaliers kept the ball on the Branch side of the field for the remainder of the half, until Chelsea Salmon doubled the lead with a minute to go. The ball skittered out of a mass of players, and Smither corralled it and sent it across the center to Salmon, who knocked it in.

After Lakeland again maintained control for most of the second half (they ended with a 13-1 shooting advantage), Jennifer Brinkley smacked a pass to Smither in the center with just over nine minutes to play. Smither’s shot ricocheted over the goalkeeper’s leg pad for the score. Nicole Debien ended the scoring for the Lady Cavaliers with 24 seconds to play. The ball went off a Lady Bruin, and appeared headed over the end line. At the last second, a sprawling Smither was able to deflect the ball back to the center, and Debien nudged it in for the score.

The Lady Warriors had a more difficult time in their 2-1 defeat of Great Bridge (avenging the 2-1 defeat Bridge handed them in last year’s tournament), as the Lady Wildcats dominated the first half, smashing shot after shot at goalkeeper Amber Shaffer, who fought off several breakaways to hold Bridge scoreless in the first.

&uot;I was scared,&uot; said Shaffer, who helped her team to two one-goal victories over the Lady Wildcats during the regular season. &uot;In the second half, I didn’t get many shots on me, which was a good thing!&uot;

That half was much more even, as Ashley Aston gave the Lady Warriors a 1-0 lead with 16 minutes to go. At halftime, Aston said, &uot;We talked about working together. We had it in our mind that we wanted to go to regionals. We had to try to be more aggressive.&uot;

Katelyn Yandle completed her team’s scoring with 5:28 to play. She dribbled down the left side of the field, and knocked a shot at the goalkeeper. It bounced off, and went to Megan Belch, who passed to Yandle for the score. When Holly Belew scored for the Lady Wildcats in the final minute, nearly all of River’s substitutes were on the field.