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Unionville stuns Garnet Valley in district opener

Garnet Valley's Tina Rawa moves the ball up field in the first half as Unionville's Maggie Lawrence chases in a District 1 Class 3A field hockey playoff game at Garnet Valley.
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CONCORD — Choosing “Against all odds,” as its motto for the 2018 season was quite appropriate for the Unionville field hockey team.

The Indians have been beating the odds all season.

First-year coach Katie Arnold took over a team that lost most of its starting lineup from a squad that finished fifth in the District 1 Class 3A tournament a year ago and qualified for the PIAA playoffs. That’s a tough task for a rookie.

On top of that, Unionville’s 18-game, regular-season schedule included 16 games against teams that qualified for the District 1 and District 3 tournaments so the Indians didn’t get a break in that department. And then Unionville lost four of its last five games to fall to No. 22 in the 24-team district playoff field, which made the Indians a decided underdog against 11th-seeded Garnet Valley Monday afternoon.

The Indians, though, beat the odds once again. 

Despite being dominated in every statistical category, Unionville upset the Jaguars, 2-0, in the opening round of the of the District 1 Class 3A tournament at Moe DeFrank Stadium.

“What a great game,” Arnold said. “It was so awesome to see them all be all in all the time.”

Garnet Valley’s Sophie Easter moves the ball up field in the first half as Unionville’s Dani Panati gives chase. (PETE BANNAN/DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA)

The Indians (8-11) earned a rematch with sixth-seeded Downingtown West (14-4) in Wednesday’s second round. The Whippets won that meeting, 6-0, which means Unionville will the the underdog, again, but that’s fine with the Indians.

“People don’t expect much from us,” defender Amanda Panati said. “We’ve been kind of underestimated all season. Our record might not be that great, but we’re looking forward to playing another game.”

Unionville advanced despite losing the statistical battle everywhere but on the scoreboard, which is the only numbers that matter. Garnet Valley had 19 corners to four for Unionville and outshot the Indians, 15-6.

“We had a ton of opportunities, especially on corners,” second-year Garnet Valley coach Sandy Leiti said. “All season, they’ve been our go-to. That’s how we’ve been scoring. I’m not sure why we could score. I don’t know why exactly it happened. If it was the speed of our inserts or our flyer, but we just couldn’t capitalize.”

Garnet Valley was so much in control that it took 18 minutes for the Indians to get their first shot. Unionville’s defense, though, was up to the task. The Indians disrupted the Garnet Valley attack in every way, especially on corners.

“You just have to continue to work as a team,” Panat said. “It all goes back to that and not getting frustrated with each other. Even though the calls didn’t go our way, we didn’t let it go to our heads.”

When the ball did get through, goalie Kelsey Hildenbrand was there to keep the Jags off the scoreboard. She made 14 saves, 10 in the first half when the Jaguars (12-6-1) controlled the ball and wound up with 13 corners.

“I go through a routine on each corner,” Hildenbrand said. “I hit my stick against the post, set myself up and take a deep breath. This game I gave my friend (Madi Miles) a high five.”

It worked.

“Kelsey played amazing,” Miles said. “We had a lot of balls go straight through to her and she stopped every single one. And she cleared it out as much as she could.”

Miles rewarded Hildenbrand when she scored with 11:47 to play in the first half. The goal came on a penalty stroke, but was the result of a well-played corner. Miles fired a shot that teammate Madi Holt tipped into the body of a Garnet Valley defender on the goal line.

Like Hildenbrand on corners, Miles has a routine when it comes to taking a penalty stroke. Unlike Hildenbrand, though, Miles was not about to divulge any secrets. She also deviated from her normal shot and it was enough it was enough to get the ball past Garnet Valley goalie Megan Finnegan for a 1-0 lead.

“That was an effort goal,” Arnold said. “We played the corner. We weren’t selfish. We played it right and it ended up being a stroke and Madison put it home.”

Miles came up again, this time late in the second half, to seal the victory. She fired a shot toward the goal off a corner that Maura Minter tipped home with 5:00 left in regulation.

“We’ve had several situations this season where we were down one and we came back,” Leiti said. “I felt that if we could just get one in the cage, we would have exploded from that point. That’s typically what happened to us throughout the season. We just missed out on that one.

“It’s part of districts. You never know what team you’re going get when you come out of the gate and, unfortunately, Unionville was on and they performed better than us today.”

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