By Sunday, Oct. 27, Becky Nutton thought she had completed her first season as coach of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School varsity field hockey team. Jerseys had been returned, players had exchanged hugs, end-of-season speeches had been given. Then the phone rang. MVRHS Athletics director Mark McCarthy was on the other end, informing Nutton that the Vineyarders had secured the 21st and final seed in the MIAA Division 2 South Sectional of the state tournament.
“We tried to get the word out quickly,” Nutton said. “I told the girls, Don’t put your sticks and equipment away yet.'”
Thanks to a late-season charge which included league victories over Nantucket and Sturgis West, the Vineyarders earned their postseason berth by placing second to South No. 9 seed Monomoy in the Lighthouse Division of the Cape and Islands League, with a record of 4-2-2. With tournament seedings determined solely by overall record, the Vineyarders mark of 5-10-3 drew the last spot. By the way, that overall record included two games each against the likes of D1 South No. 18 seed Nauset, South No. 1 Sandwich and South No. 14 Falmouth. Senior- and junior-laden they may be, but this group of Vineyarders was still relatively inexperienced in terms of actual game play at the start of the season, making a postseason appearance a fine achievement indeed.
The tournament opener was scheduled for Oct. 30 at Carver High School against the 12th-seeded Carver Crusaders, so the Vineyarders had to prepare quickly. “The girls weren’t really expecting it,” Nutton said. “Then there was this sense that, Oh no, we’re the 21 seed. Then they pulled out the attitude and energy for one more day of practice, and we got ourselves back into the mental state of being competitive.”
The Vineyarders were competitive and then some, summoning up a bigtime effort to beat the Crusaders, 2-1. Megan Zeilinger put the Purple in front with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, jamming in a rebound through a goalmouth scramble. Twelve minutes into the second half, MV scored the eventual game winner. Ava BenDavid made a hard push toward goal and glanced a shot off the goalie’s pads and the right post into the corner of the cage.
“We took a little while to settle into play,” Coach Nutton said. “The first 10, 15 minutes was back and forth, but from that point on, after the goal, we were really confident and held the ball for sustained periods. There was a real feeling of hope and energy, maybe from being there in the tournament and building on that momentum. It was a really exciting game to watch.”
MV outshot Carver 10-6 for the game, and Vineyarder goalie Grace O’ Malley made six saves. “Grace stepped up in the second half of the season, and filled that role really well,” Nutton said.
With a preliminary-round win under their belts, the Vineyarders earned an away date against the fifth-seeded Cohasset Skippers in the South Sectional first round on Nov. 1, the same Skippers who dashed Vineyard tourney hopes last season in a hard-fought 1-0 win.
This time around, Cohasset put five goals in the Vineyard net without reply, but the Purple played with passion and commitment. The Vineyarders stayed with the hosts for the first half, and trailed just 1-0 at the break, but the Skippers kept piling on the corners, 20 in all for the game, and pulled away with four goals in the second half.
“They had a large squad, and they were really disciplined, with a lot of experience,” Coach Nutton said. “They were relentless on attack from the beginning. They were very adept at earning corners. We did a good job of holding them in the first half, but it was hard to keep morale up in the second half. But our girls did not stop. They were hard workers through and through, and that showed right up until the end.”
Coach Nutton will lose 12 seniors from the current squad, but hopes that the positive experience gained from making the postseason will carry over into 2020.
“For the girls, it was a nice way to make a statement at the end of their season,” she said. “It was tough to lose against Sandwich in the last regular-season game. We wanted to prove ourselves in the tournament. When we found we had a second chance, we wanted to finish a little better, a little stronger. That win against Carver was that big, in the moment, win we had been craving all season.That was the really inspiring part of this postseason. We can set that goal for next year, and be prepared to meet it and go further. I was really glad to see the girls have that moment of success. It was a really exciting day for us.”