OV seniors are looking to lead their team all the way in the state field hockey tournament

OV seniors, from left to right, Livia Bernhardt, Morgan LaPorte, Ellie Ross, Isabella Falco and Alia Edmunds are the heart and soul of an outstanding Otters field hockey team. Photo courtesy of Paul Gamba Photography.
By RUSSELL JONES

BRANDON — Anger and sadness. That’s how the seniors on the Otter Valley Union High School field hockey squad described the ending of the 2018 season. Those two words summed up their feelings about last year’s season, and the motivation they had before this season began.

Last year the OV girls were knocked out of the quarterfinals by the eventual state champion Mt. Abe. It was a heartbreaker for the Otters, but it led them to work harder for this year.

“Being seniors now, we were even more motivated to win this year,” said Livia Bernhardt. “Anger and sadness drove us this year to be better than we were last year.”

Those two emotions have changed through the season into determination and focus and have driven this year’s field hockey team to even greater heights.

The team went 11-2 in the regular season and was crowned the Southern Vermont League B division champions. Alia Edmunds has topped 2017 OV graduate Allison Lowell’s season high record of 22 goals and 2 assists by scoring 26 goals and adding 15 assists.

“Ending last year on that loss we wanted to make this the best year yet,” said Edmunds. “We knew that we could do it, too.”

Bernhardt and Edmunds, along with Morgan LaPorte, Ellie Ross and Isabella Falco, are the team’s five seniors and they make up the heart and soul of this Otters team.

OV last won a state title four years ago, meaning this group of seniors just missed out on that championship run. Their hope is to change that this year.

 “We’re stronger than ever and we want it even more. We want to get to the championship,” Falco said. “It would be the first time going for our group.”

YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP

Adding to their determination is the team’s camaraderie. The five seniors have been playing field hockey together since the seventh grade, but have been playing together in other sports for as long as most can remember.

All of them have lived in the area since they were born and although some went to different elementary schools, they are as close as can be.

“This is our senior year and we want to make memories,” said LaPorte. “We’ve formed really strong bonds, not only with each other, but with the rest of the team.”

Bernhardt said the five of them are all people who like to reach out to help younger teammates and they have helped the freshmen grow as the season went on.

“We put ourselves out there to help whenever we can,” she said.

That drive to help others has not only helped them win 11 games this season, but the seniors believe it also sets the whole field hockey program up for success in the future.

“We have never had five seniors lead the team and I wasn’t sure how well it would work,” Otters coach Stacey Edmunds said. “They have done remarkably well and they all bring something different to the table. I see that as a true benefit to the team, as there is always a way to emphasize their strengths and apply them in leadership.”

PLAYOFF ACTION

The Otters took on their first opponent in the tournament on Friday, Oct. 25. They hosted St. Johnsbury, 2-0. Brittney Jackson scored off a Riley LaPorte assist three minutes into the second half and Alia Edmunds scored five minutes later to give the Otters all they would need to advance in the playoffs.

The Otters dominated the game, with St. Johnsbury only making a few shots on goal. Bernhardt, Falco and sophomore Alice Keith turned the Hilltoppers back repeatedly, keeping the ball in OV’s control. Ellie Ross had one save for the Otters and Elizabeth Mastrianni-Douglas had 10 for the Hilltoppers.

The Otters are the number one seed in the tournament, but their road to get there has not been a smooth ride.

“A team’s chemistry is a big thing,” said Ross. “The beginning wasn’t as positive as we wanted and we had a long talk after the Woodstock game.”

That was a 4-3 win for the Otters midway through the season. According to the group, attitude is everything on the field.

“We have a saying, ‘fake it ‘till you make it,’” Ross said. “One person’s attitude can bring down the whole team.”

Besides help creating a good team attitude, the seniors say they’ve worked hard to make each other and the younger members of the team better.

“We like to challenge each other in practice,” Edmunds said. “Liv (Bernhardt) is really strong on defense and that helps the offense get stronger.”

While it’s been a tough and emotional season, according to the group of seniors, they’ve taken the anger and sadness of last year’s early exit and used it to fuel their drive in the playoffs and hopefully a trip to the finals on Saturday at UVM. To get there, they will need to beat 9-6 Burr and Burton, a team that beat them by a goal earlier this season. That game will be played Wednesday night in South Burlington.

“Regardless of what happens in the semifinals or championship game, this team has earned my respect,” Coach Edmunds said. “They have proven they can play field hockey and while I look forward to continued play, they have already earned bragging rights.”

“I hope they look back on this season with pride and a sense of true belonging because they achieved as a field hockey family, and that includes far more than just wins and titles.”