BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – It beat the clock, Mother Nature and the odds. And because it did, it also beat Northern Lebanon.
That’s kind of the way it’s going for the Elco field hockey team right now, while the same can probably be said of the Vikings.
On Thursday afternoon, the Raiders came up with a fortuitous win in edging Northern Lebanon 1-0. After Elco scored on its only shot of the first half, the contest was shortened by a menacing thunderstorm.
Play was officially suspended with 25:27 remaining in the second half, making the outcome official.
The triumph lifted Elco to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Northern Lebanon, which competed with 11 healthy players and did not substitute, is now 1-7 on the year and 0-4 in the section.
“It’s official, as long as you get a half in,” said Elco head coach Lisa Kercher. “Oh yeah, we knew about it (the threat of a thunderstorm) before the game. I told the girls, ‘You must score in the first half, because we can’t guarantee we’re going to finish this game.’ And they did. I’m extremely pleased with them. At the end of the game, we’re usually the ones saying, ‘Oh darn, we could’ve won that game.’
“We are very excited because we have never (in a while) had a winning season,” Kercher continued. “We had four wins last year and we have four now. I know it’s very early, but we’re making improvements. I’m looking for eight wins, doubling last year. Elco hockey has not had eight wins in six seasons.”
“I guess you could use those words,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Michelle Krall. “But Elco scored and we didn’t. Whether it was fortunate or not, at the end of the day, you have to score a goal to win.
“I told them (her players) that if we played an entire first half, and the game was interrupted, it was the end of the game,” continued Krall. “We had possession of the the ball at the beginning of the first half, and I told them, ‘it was our ball to lose.’ We had to score first, because we might only play 30 minutes.”
Elco senior Leah Nelson netted the contest’s only tally. It came 8:18 into the first half, off a counter-attack, after the Vikings had mounted some sustained pressure on the Raider cage.
Attacking from the right side of the field, the Raiders linked the ball into the circle. After freshman Emily Witmer worked it around NL goalie Dan Kreiser, the ball came to rest in the goal mouth, and the opportunistic Nelson was there to pounce on it and jam it home.
“It was just scrapping in front of the cage,” said Kercher. “It wasn’t a pretty one. Those are the ones you set up. But again, it counts. When opportunity knocked, today it was answered.
“It came down the right side of the field, which was what we were trying to do,” Kercher continued. “There’s only right-handed hockey sticks, so it’s easier to come down the right-hand side of the field, and it’s harder to defend.”
“I vaguely remember it,” said Krall of Nelson’s goal. “I remember our goalie had been drawn to the right side and then the ball went to the left. They had maybe four girls going to the goal, and we got beat.
“The goal they scored, on one shot they took, that’s tough,” added Krall. “But we had a lot of opportunities to score a goal. Unfortunately, we didn’t play a whole game. Time helps when you’re trying to score a goal. But we were well aware of the weather.”
Perhaps the true star of the game was Elco sophomore net-minder Amanda Axarlis, who got a helping hand from teammate Morgan Berger.
Northern Lebanon peppered the Raider goalie with 13 shots, and Axarlis was credited with nine saves, some of which were multiple drives from point-blank range. And when the Vikings did get a couple of balls past Axarlis, Berger was there to make at least two defensive saves.
“Amanda is extremely aggressive and she works extremely hard,” said Kercher. “She knew at the end of last season that she could step into the line of good goalies in Lebanon County.”
“We played really well,” said Krall. “We dominated the game. We had the ball in our offensive end a lot longer than Elco. We had a talented team, but we didn’t score.
“Yes, their goalie (Axarlis) played well,” added Krall. “But we got the ball past their goalie three times. We had some opportunities to see some beautiful goals. We were there. It just didn’t happen the way it should’ve happened. We just didn’t capitalize. With our penalty corners, we were there. We need to get a little lower in the circle, and everybody’s got to be ready.”
On the Saturday prior, Elco had beaten Northern Lebanon 2-0 in the Cedar Crest tournament.
“We played them on Saturday, and the exact same thing happened,” said Kercher. “Our goalie is great. She’s a rock for our team. And Hannah Williams, our freshman center back, is stepping up. When they do what they know they’re supposed to do, that’s how we scored that goal.
“Right now, they (the Vikings) have 12 players,” Kercher continued. “They’re doing everything they can to pull out whatever they can. With their 12, they have to be aggressive. Given the lack of numbers on other teams, we’re the only team in Section Three with a full varsity roster and a full JV roster. But you only put 11 on the field and that doesn’t necessarily dictate who’s going to win. Going forward, we do have a full squad.”
“Looking at our games, we have a good team and we play well,” said Krall. “Yes, our numbers are low. The girls we have play together. We’re playing some talented teams and we’re holding our ground against them. My kids really wanted to go out and win this game. We’re playing well, but there’s always something to improve on.
“The thing we need to improve on most is our offense,” Krall added. “I’m proud my kids can respond to what I ask them to do. Wins would be icing on top of the cake, but we’re getting there.”