As time ticked down in the second half, Niskayuna looked more and more like the aggressive field hockey team that won Suburban Council and Section II championships a year ago.
Saratoga Springs was up to the challenge.
“I would have been disappointed if they tied it up,” Blue Streaks coach Jo-Anne Hostig said after her team held off the Silver Warriors, 2-1, Tuesday afternoon. “We did so many good things to be in that position.”
Sam Geils stopped a point-blank drive, and soon after, Marissa Larkin made a steal in the circle and weaved her way to midfield to finish off the Blue Streaks’ victory in the season opener for both teams.
“That was a good win,” Hostig said. “They knew the girls on Niskayuna were good, and they didn’t panic. They could have.”
Saratoga never let Niskayuna apply consistent pressure over the first 40 minutes, and stayed cool under fire when the Silver Warriors picked up the pace in a scene similar to last season during their run to the state semifinals.
Saratoga defenders Lindsay Rutz, Carley Barnes, Lauren Farley, Tori Shaffer and Whitney Flansburg shared star honors for the game with Geils, two-goal scorer Kelsey Briddell and Ann Mahoney, who set up those goals and made several nifty dribbles from one half of the field into the other.
“We just used each other. That’s what helped us. They had an explosive plan, and we had a methodical plan,” said Hostig. “When we were on defense and when we were on offense, we made connections and we were able to move the ball. Definitely a lot of girls contributed to this win.
“I could tell yesterday in practice they wanted it. They went out and performed.”
Ali Frary finished off a penalty corner with 17:05 left to pull Niskayuna within 2-1. Carrie Hanks made a spin move near the top of the circle before feeding Ali Wells, who slipped the ball to Frary.
Niskayuna’s best bid to tie came after two unsuccessful penalty corners, when Geils denied Jackie O’Brien on a close-range drive for her sixth and final save.
“We have to have that same sense of urgency we felt in the last few minutes for the whole game,” said Hanks, Niskayuna’s all-state senior midfielder. “A lot of girls on the team were on the JV or didn’t start last year. It took us a while to get adjusted.”
“Our team is a little green right now. We only have a handful of starters,” said Niskayuna coach Alison Broomhead. “I think that sense of urgency is going to come, and it’s something we’ll talk more about. We need to go from the first minute.”
Niskayuna’s offensive opportunities were short-lived in the first half and into the second.
“They moved the ball really well. They didn’t let us get settled,” said Broomhead. “They did a good job of cutting and getting open, and we let them travel longer and farther down the field than we would have hoped.”
Saratoga transitioned up the field quickly before each of its goals.
“Our midfielders were pushing up to compensate for our forwards, and our defense is all new except for one girl. There was a little hesitation to step up,” said Broomhead. “They’ll learn.”
Briddell scored with 22:15 to go in the first half after Mahoney sent a right-to-left crossing pass her way. Briddell’s second goal with 21:39 left in the second frame came after Mahoney made a steal near midfield and raced into the circle before dishing to her fellow team captain.
Hanks turned in the most impressive play of the contest late in the first half when she ran full speed to chase down a ball rolling toward the end line, and without hesitation, zipped a hard back-hand pass that sailed past Geils.
“I was watching YouTube and saw a guy from Australia do it,” said Hanks, a member of the national under-19 indoor team. “I tried it, and it worked.”
Hanks had Niskayuna’s best first-half scoring opportunity when she unleashed a drive near the top of the circle, and Geils made a save. Briddell scored soon after.
“Carrie is going to do a lot of things for them. So is Wells, Frary and [Kate] Batzinger,” said Hostig. “They’ll have a different team in the second half.”
Saratoga dealt Niskayuna its only league loss last season.