HARWICH – Holly Evans was ready. After all, she'd been practicing taking a penalty stroke for years. If there were any nerves, they were quickly erased when the referee's whistle sounded, prompting Evans to get low and fire the ball hard, and when it hit its mark, bouncing off the back of the Nauset goal box, Evans, her teammates, and a big crowd of Monomoy fans erupted into excited cheers.
The Sharks had defeated the Warriors 4-1 in field hockey action in one of their most exciting games in recent history.
“It was awesome,” said head coach Jen Estes. “They played unbelievably.”
Adding to the heady mix of emotion that followed was the fact that the Sharks were not only competing against a longtime rival, but that rival is now being coached by former Monomoy and Harwich head field hockey coach Cheryl Poore, who was a bit stunned at the game's outcome.
“I'm disappointed,” Poore said. “I thought we would score a lot. I think they were a little surprised by the big hits. I was a little surprised, too.”
After a little hesitancy in the first few minutes of the game, Monomoy regrouped and brought a new intensity to the game, blocking passes and dominating ball control, much to the frustration of the previously unbeaten Nauset squad.
The Sharks maneuvered the ball in front of the Nauset net several times in the opening half, only to have the Warriors send it toward the opposite end of the field, until Jess Currie and Carly Dimock combined forces in getting the ball back in Monomoy possession. Dimock funneled the ball to Caroline DiGiovanni for the first goal of the game at the 16:00 mark of the first half.
“Jess Currie's cross balls to Carly were unbelievable today,” said Estes of one of her senior captains.
DiGiovanni scored again a little less than three minutes later on a solo shot to put Monomoy ahead 2-0 as halftime approached, the Shark Tank cheering wildly in all white from the bleachers.
Both teams stepped up their intensity following the break, with Nauset's Emily Frazier finally narrowing Monomoy's lead to 2-1 with her goal at the 11:07 mark, but minutes later Dimock found an opening in front of the Nauset net and pounced, making it 3-1 Monomoy with little more than five minutes left to play.
Then the spotlight was trained on Evans and her penalty stroke, which landed in the net at with 2:03 left in the game.
“That was incredible,” Estes said. “It's just you and the goalie so it's so mental, you almost can get in your own way, but she's been preparing for that forever. She could not have been happier for that moment.”
Indeed, as evidenced by Evans's gleeful leap into her teammates' arms after making the shot, she was thrilled.
“I love strokes. I've been waiting to take a stroke all my high school career,” Evans said. “To make it in such an important game for all of us, for all of the seniors and juniors, just means the world.”
When the final buzzer sounded, there were tears on both sides of the field, some happy, some not. Estes couldn't have been prouder of her team in that moment.
“I think a lot of it was coming in and taking the game as it was and playing our game, and really focusing on what we could do and what we could control,” she said. “They really played for each other today and for the team. Their unity and togetherness on the field is unparalleled. It's amazing to see the leadership and see it all come together when they're playing together.”
Estes acknowledged the tentative start, but was pleased that her players overcame it.
“There were points where we had to readjust some things, but I think we did that successfully, and they continued to fight throughout the entire game,” Estes said. “That's one of the biggest transitions we've had from last year to this year, is that they're really not giving up.”
Estes gave high marks to Nikki Awalt on defense and to her senior captains.
“Nikki on defense, she is a brick wall back there,” Estes said. “And the senior captains. They are such a strong unit, and they've been such great role models for the younger players, not just on varsity but also on JV.”
Poore, meanwhile, deemed it a “tough loss.”
“We're a very young team,” Poore said. “They lost 13 starters. We've been building momentum and I thought we were ready, we looked like we were ready, and our system broke down.”
Poore said Monomoy seemed to overwhelm her Nauset squad.
“It was when we started leaving the gaps that we left it wide open for the big hits,” Poore said. “But Monomoy came out with a vengeance and they never let up, so that's to Monomoy's credit.”
Poore gave shoutouts to Frazier, whom she said “scored that goal from pure guts,” and Abby Stevens.
She added that she's thrilled to be back coaching field hockey again.
“We found a new niche. I'm excited about that,” she said of herself and her assistant coaches. “It's a school that has an athletic philosophy that I can buy into, and great support and leadership there. I think the girls are happy. They've never worked this hard. They're buying into that. This is a bit of a blow because they've won everything until tonight. Now I've got to convince them that tonight isn't the whole season.”
Evans gave a nod to Nauset, as well, but emphasized that she and her Monomoy teammates are in it to win it this year.
“All love to the other team,” she said. “I'm friends with a lot of them, and obviously our old coach is there, but I've been waiting to show them all that it doesn't matter what you come with, we're always going to come with something harder. We're going to try our best. We play our game like it's 0-0 no matter what the score is, and that's how we'll continue to play. We are who we are because of this team. We support each other no matter who was before us, who else coaches us. This is us now and it's only because of us.”
After a tough loss to Sandwich and a tie against Falmouth, the Sharks are now 3-1-1 overall, while Nauset is at 3-2 after falling to Barnstable. Monomoy travels to Nantucket on Sept. 23 for a 4 p.m. game, while Nauset takes on the Whalers tomorrow night (Sept. 20) at 4 p.m.