The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

High School Sports

October 17, 2012

Scott Dudinskie's field hockey column: Wildcats clear mental hurdle to beat Seals

As Dani Ard unhooked her goalie pads Tuesday she turned to a Mifflinburg teammate and said in a hushed voice, “I thought we were going to lose.”

And why shouldn’t she?

Ard faced Selinsgrove six previous times and the best she and the Wildcats could do was a scoreless tie in 2010.

Tuesday night she gave up a first-half goal off a rebound and then sealed off the cage. Still, she could only watch helplessly as time ticked away on Mifflinburg’s chance at a Heartland-I championship.

“Honestly, at first I was thinking, ‘Oh, no! Just stay with me, defense. Don’t lose it here,’” Ard said after the Wildcats’ historic 2-1 win.

Consider it force of habit.

She was tired of playing second fiddle to the Seals, noting how they were often referred to as “four-time HAC-I champions” or “seven-time defending district champs.”

With a win Tuesday and another today at Danville, the Wildcats would be league champions. The one (huge) obstacle was the fact Selinsgrove had never lost a HAC game, not in the league’s five years.

The Seals’ HAC unbeaten streak was as old as the iPhone.

Ard had faith, but she needed the entire team to believe.

“We have always been able to beat (Selinsgrove). I think it’s more of a mental thing,” said Ard. “If they would take (the Seals), throw them in the middle of nowhere, put different jerseys on them and name them something crazy, we wouldn’t care who they are.”

Jayme Longacre thought the same. Mifflinburg’s first-year coach was a Wildcats junior the last time they beat Selinsgrove (2005). She knew the dates of the teams’ rivalry games off the top of her head in August.

She also knew Mifflinburg wouldn’t beat the Seals on the field until they beat them off it.

“We came in and said, ’We’ve always been intimidated by the name ‘Selinsgrove,’” said Longacre. “This year there’s so many teams that are beatable, so many that are evenly matched, and we considered ourselves evenly matched with them. I said, ‘Forget about their name. What if they were wearing a different jersey? Would you be intimidated from the start going in?’

“We talked about how we couldn’t be beat before we even got on the field. And they pulled it off.”

Mifflinburg was hot of late, having won seven consecutive HAC-I games since a 3-0 loss at home to Selinsgrove on Sept. 20. The Seals were unbeaten over 11 with four straight wins, losing last Sept. 10 at Greenwood. The difference, at least on paper, appeared to be the literal home-field advantage of Selinsgrove’s artificial turf.

The Wildcats played down a goal for nearly 40 minutes, never allowing the Seals to build momentum as they often do, like a snowball rolling downhill. Mifflinburg scored the equalizer with 6:31 to play in regulation and got the game-winner with 3:12 left in overtime, converting two of just six shots in 72 minutes.

“I knew, in my sophomore year, that we could beat them, and we played really well against them. But that year I don’t think we were as capitalizing a team as this year,” said Ard. “So I knew, compared to other times we had played, that we could score. If that meant losing a game 3-2, I’d be proud because we played right up against them.”

McKenzie Noll, a junior mid, cast aside the moral victory and moved Mifflinburg to the precipice of a league title with her game-winner.

“We definitely had it in us, and we knew that,” said Noll.

“We just had to go all-out the whole game.”

Ard made a dozen saves, but none in overtime as the Wildcats kept the Seals mostly between the 25s and snuffed out their only corner. She had a great seat to watch her team make area history.

“It doesn’t even feel real yet,” Ard said as she rolled her gear toward Mifflinburg’s bus, the last player to leave darkened Bolig Stadium.

Scott Dudinskie covers high school field hockey for The Daily Item. Email comments to sdudinskie@dailyitem.com.

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