One last push. That was the story of Saturday night's FIH Pro League game at Spooky Nook Sports.
For the visiting New Zealand women's field hockey team, that involved trying to push its way into a spot in the league's Grand Final. For Team USA, it was that last push of the ball over the goal line. The latter, unfortunately, proved elusive.
While Team USA had its lone goal waved off in the second quarter after the shot was deemed dangerous, New Zealand scored in each of the final three quarters for the 3-0 shutout.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Black Sticks, who now have 15 points in 12 games and are closing in on Australia and Germany for fourth place in the standings. The U.S. remains in last place with just seven points in 14 games.
“It makes it hard for a team that is trying,” U.S. coach Janneke Schopman said about the loss. “I think we played really well for three quarters – a lot of learning and more on the ball, in comparison to the China game. I think we played better, we created enough opportunities, but you need to score."
"We can't afford to just miss the target, basically. If the goalkeeper's making a lot of good saves, then that's fine, but I think we were a little sloppy with our corner execution, so that was disappointing.”
FIH No. 6 New Zealand went on the attack early, earning the night's first corner less than three minutes into the game. While U.S goalie Kelsey Bing slid toward the left post in anticipation of the shot, New Zealand deflected the ball toward the right side. Warwick graduate Alyssa Manley read the play and dropped her stick for the defensive save.
Team USA would take aim in the closing minutes of the quarter, first with Kat Sharkey and Donegal's Mackenzie Allessie trying to poke the ball through a scrum in front of the cage. Sharkey came right back, intercepting a Black Sticks pass and sending the ball ahead to Danielle Grega, but the shot sailed over the top of the cage.
New Zealand broke the scoreless deadlock four minutes into the second quarter on a reverse from Tarryn Davey. Sharkey once again tried to get No. 12 Team USA on the board, but New Zealand goalie Grace O'Hanlon showcased her quick reflexes and swatted it away.
There was no stopping Sharkey's next strike, coming on the Americans' first corner of the game. With 6:09 on the clock, the U.S. captain fired on goal, cracking the backboard as the crowd celebrated the equalizer. New Zealand would use its referral, however, and the goal was erased.
The reversal seemed to motivate Team USA, which came right back thanks to an interception by Anna Dessoye. The midfielder found Grega, but O'Hanlon dropped to her knees to smother the shot.
It took just one minute out of the break for New Zealand to double its lead. This time, Stacey Michelsen sent a backhander toward the cage and Shiloh Gloyn redirected it into the cage.
Despite the early tally, Team USA controlled much of the third quarter. The Americans fired six of their 11 shots and four of their five penalty corners in the period, but still couldn't find the back of the net.
With O'Hanlon and the defense doing its part, New Zealand added a final tally in the fourth quarter. Samantha Charlton stole the ball from a U.S. stick and played it forward, where it eventually found Olivia Merry. As Bing came out of the cage to cut off the advance, Merry pushed the ball over the goal line as she tripped over the keeper and fell to the turf.
“We played pretty well the first three quarters,” said Sharkey. “New Zealand is a really strong team in their counterattack and in front of the goal and every single one of those moments, they're going to capitalize on. Credit to them, they did that really well. We took some good steps in some areas, but we need to be able to play a full 60 minutes.”