CHS field hockey hoping for new life in D1 tourney

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Friday night is make-or-break time for the CHS field hockey team as the Bulldogs enter the season finale against the Sharon Eagles needing at least a tie to clinch a spot in the Division 1 south playoffs.

Senior captain Mary Nee (Mike Barucci photo)

Senior captain Mary Nee (Mike Barucci photo)

Traditionally one of the top field hockey programs in the state, Canton has not missed a postseason tournament in well over a decade and has averaged more than 15 wins per season going all the way back to 2004. This year’s team, however, got off to a surprisingly rocky start (2-4-2) and has been forced to play catch-up ever since, finally climbing over .500 with a pair of wins last week before falling to Stoughton 1-0 at home Monday night.

With the loss, Canton fell back to 6-6-3 in Hockomock League play (7-7-3 overall) and slipped to fourth place in the Davenport Division standings. Meanwhile, the Black Knights — a team that Canton has owned prior to this season — jumped into the third spot after winning the season series against their rivals two games to none.

Yet despite the early season struggles and the recent setback against Stoughton, head coach Fior Griffin has been genuinely encouraged by the team’s play as of late, especially on the defensive end, and she believes the girls have the talent to surprise some teams if they can sneak into the playoffs.

“I’m really pleased to see how far we’ve come defensively from the beginning of the season until now,” said Griffin on Sunday. “There’s still obviously room for improvement, and I’m just hoping that we hit that potential as we get into tournament.”

Griffin said she was especially encouraged by the Bulldogs’ performance in Saturday’s 1-0 win at nonleague Dover-Sherborn, which entered the contest at 10-2 overall. Canton took the lead just five minutes into the game on a goal by sophomore Andrea McNeil and then the defense did its part, led by Emily Rizzitano, Kelly Martin, and goalkeeper Taylor Carrington.

“They were a good team,” Griffin said of Dover-Sherborn. “They were fast and they were skilled, but our girls responded well and did a good job of not forcing things. Defensively, we were able to keep them off the board and we played just a much better team game.”

The Bulldogs also had a similarly strong outing a few days earlier against division foe Milford, winning at home 5-0 behind a hat trick from Caroline Hagan. Masha Smirnova and Colleen Phelan also had a goal in the victory, and the Canton defense shut down the Milford forwards en route to their fourth shutout of the season.

Earlier in the week, the Bulldogs hosted first-place Oliver Ames and ended up on the wrong side of a 1-0 final score despite outshooting the Tigers and playing great defense.

“It was one of the few times this year where we lost but I was still pleased with their performance,” said Griffin. “We played really well in the game; we just couldn’t score.”

Griffin said Rizzitano was yet again one of the stars of the game and has been especially dominant over the past five or so contests. “It just kind of took her a while to find her rhythm this season, but in the past few weeks she has stepped up incredibly,” she said of the senior captain.

She added that the entire defensive backfield deserves credit for the team’s improved play, with Rizzitano, Martin, Phelan and Sarah Wilkinson all working well off one another and communicating effectively.

Griffin said the key now is to improve their finishing, and that has been the focus in practice this week as the girls set their sights on a return to the postseason.

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