Preseason perfection

Published 10:48 pm Thursday, August 20, 2009

VIRGINIA BEACH ­— Thursday’s Lakeland High field hockey contest may have been only a preseason scrimmage, but Cavaliers’ star Kelsey Smither showed she’s already in midseason form.

The junior midfielder scored twice with her powerful shot and had another blast deflected under the crossbar by a teammate as the nine-time defending Southeastern District champions routed Gloucester 4-0.

The scrimmage was broken into three 20-minute periods and played during mid-afternoon in blazing heat at the U.S. Field Hockey National Training Center. Air temperatures flirted with 100 degrees, and the heat index rose over it, causing players to gasp loudly for air as they ran across the shimmering, artificial turf.

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“I’d give them sympathy, but we have games coming up that could be played in heat like this, and we had a few players who were really struggling,” said Lakeland coach Tara Worley, whose only concession to the inferno was a small visor. “Days like this are when you find out what kind of player and person you really are.”

It’s pretty evident the Cavaliers again will be dominant over most, if not all, of their district foes. But Gloucester, a perennially strong program from the Peninsula area, hassled Lakeland players into turnovers and passes that rolled out of bounds. The difference, as so often is the case, was Smither.

The district’s returning player of the year started slowly, as did her team. Most of the first period was scoreless, although Lakeland took six penalty corners to the Dukes’ none in the stanza.

The lone goal before the first intermission came with three minutes remaining, when Gloucester committed the cardinal sin of allowing Smither too much time and space. She pounded home a shot from just inside the top of the arc.

The Cavaliers went up 2-0 a minute into the second period when Taylor Young lost the ball on a run into enemy territory before regaining possession and dribbling up the middle and at the Dukes’ goaltender. Young beat her from close range with a low shot.

The score became 3-0 with four minutes remaining in the second period when Megan Johnson ramped a Smither corner over the goaltender. Smither then closed the scoring 30 seconds later with a whack from a sharp angle.

The victory left Worley much happier than after her team’s scrimmage against Cox last week. The Falcons feature 10 seniors and although score wasn’t kept, Worley said the outcome “wasn’t pretty.” Thursday, she felt her troops, who were 17-3 and outscored opponents 68-4 last season, corrected many of their mistakes.

“We moved the ball quicker, and our defensive footwork was better,” she said. “Cox really exposed a lot of our weaknesses, but hopefully today was the start of our team gaining some confidence.”