Fast start ignites Council Rock South field hockey in win over Lower Merion

NORTHAMPTON – Former Council Rock South midfielder Caroline McGovern was a special field hockey player. A 100-goal scorer for the Golden Hawks, McGovern (Class of 2017) set single season records for goals (39) and points (87) before she left for Boston College.

With McGovern now excelling for BC’s Eagles, CR South has spent this season recreating itself.

“Caroline was a great leader – she taught us a lot of things that we needed to learn coming into the season,” stated current senior Mikayla VanAken. “Learning from her and from last season, we were able to mold the younger players into what our team was last year, or something close to it.”

CR South is coming off a 2016 season in which it captured a league title, finished in sixth place in the District 1 AAA Tournament and qualified for states.

“It helps when you have a great team like that, what we went through last season and coming into this season, stepping into new shoes and really molding everybody else around them,” added VanAken.

This year, the Hawks are getting contributions from up and down the lineup. Most of the team’s offense goes through forwards Katlyn Cocco (14 goals, 8 assists), Carissa Longmore, Caitlyn Thornton and Shannon Lind along with midfielders Tori Wright (13 G, 10 A), Bridget Doherty and VanAken (11 G, 8 A).

Opening District 1-AAA playoff action Oct. 23 at Walt Snyder Stadium in Newtown, 16th-seeded CR South (11-8, 7-5 SOL) went ahead 3-0 at the half on goals by Wright, VanAken and Longmore.

The game-winner by Wright came on a penalty corner, Van Aken’s goal came 2:36 later and Longmore’s came 27 seconds before the halftime break.

Less than five minutes into the second half, Cocco, a sophomore, tallied off a tip-in and Lind scored unassisted with 14:26 remaining in regulation. Hawks goalkeeper Aspen Handel earned her seventh shutout of the season.

“We came together as a team and everyone played the full 60 minutes – that’s what I’ve been looking for all season,” stated head coach Lisa Belz. “Lower Merion is a good team but we came out strong and we capitalized on our opportunities.”

“It starts all the way in the back, from the very last sweeper all the way to (Katelyn) Cocco, up top,” added VanAken. “It’s really helpful when we can communicate and work together up and down the field.”

It also helps when you have a speedster like Cocco on the end of those drives upfield.

“She’s insanely fast and it works to our advantage,” said VanAken, of Cocco. “We can send the ball to wherever and she can beat whoever we put her up against.”

Last year, CR South went unbeaten and took top honors in the Suburban One National League. This season, the Hawks went 7-5 in SONL action, dropping both battles to SONL champ Pennsbury and also to second-place Neshaminy.

In the second game with the Lady Skins Oct. 17 at Walt Snyder Stadium, South came out flat in a 1-0 regular season loss to Neshaminy. The last thing the Hawks needed was a similar start in their District 1-AAA opener against Lower Merion.

“That Neshaminy game, we did not come out strong in the first half,” stated Blez. “We played really hard in the second half but it wasn’t enough. They scored in the last seven minutes and we came up short.”

To the contrary, the Hawks went into their playoff matchup with Lower Merion with both guns blazing.

“I think we came out strong and we were ready to play today,” said Belz. “We had some great passing combinations and we executed our corners.”

In addition to outshooting the opposition 21-3, CR South outpaced the 17th-seeded Aces 8-3 on corners in the first half and 14-4 for the game. The Hawks didn’t waste any time earning those corners either, getting three in the first four minutes of the contest.

One of those corner opportunities finally paid off when Wright took a feed from Cocco and slammed it into the back of the cage just 13:17 into the playoff.

“I think every team’s initial goal is to get down that end and get something to put the (opponent) back on their heels,” said Belz. “It’s always a good thing if you can get on the board early too.”

With its opening D-1 playoff win over the Aces, the Hawks advance to the Round of 16 where they will face top-seeded Ches-Mont League rival Downingtown West 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25 on the Whippets’ home field.

Downingtown West took top honors this season in the Ches-Mont League by going unbeaten (13-0) in the National Division. The Whippets finished in fourth place in the district last year. The Hawks took sixth place.

NOTES: In addition to Van Aken, the senior class for CR South includes Wright, Thornton, Lind, Rachel Thorpe, Dani Hayduchok and Sara Solomon.

Council Rock South 5, Lower Merion

(Oct. 23 at CR North)

FIRST-HALF GOALS: CRS — Tori Wright, Mikayla VanAken, Carissa Longmore; LM — none.

SECOND-HALF GOALS: CRS — Katelyn Cocco, Shannon Lind; LM — none.

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