Urbana’s field hockey team employs a diamond formation, placing its top defenders — Ashlyn White and Riley Clipson — at the top and bottom of the diamond, respectively.
Have the Hawks always used such a system?
“Our defenses are based on the talent that we have on our team,” coach A.J. Stuart said. “So, we’ve played a couple different types of defenses. This is the one that works and suits us best for the team that we have this year.”
Hard to imagine it working any better than it has.
The Hawks have allowed just three goals in 13 games and posted 11 shutouts, including eight straight before Middletown broke the streak with a goal in Urbana’s 2-1 win on Monday.
Heck, Urbana (12-1) has made it difficult for opponents to even take shots on goal, meaning goalies McKenna Ladson and Danielle McNerney often have a light workload.
“They’ve seen very few shots,” Stuart said. “But I would also attribute some of that, not only to our defense but the fact that our team does a nice job of keeping and maintaining possession.
“We do a nice job with passing, we do a nice job of supporting one another, which kind of helps to keep the ball on our stick,” she said.
And when the Hawks don’t have the ball on their stick, they have defenders such as White and Clipson ready to pounce.
Being at the top of the diamond, White usually gets first crack at making the stop. She’s a longtime defender who relishes such a role. Plus, she likes driving the ball up the field to create scoring opportunities. She has two goals and seven assists.
“We all work really well together on defense and pretty much everywhere on the field,” White said. “So, I think our ability to communicate with one another really helps us stop the ball as best we can.”
Clipson agreed that communication is key.
“We’re always talking,” she said. “It’s always a loud field, even if it’s unnecessary sometimes.”
Clipson often attacks the ball on fast breaks, comes up to help with double teams when the ball gets past others and makes clears to midfielders and forwards. But her defensive identity is tied to her position at the back of the diamond.
“I’m the opposite of Ashlyn,” she said. “I’m the last line of defense before the ball goes to our goalie, who is amazing.”
Ladson, who starts in goal, has 6.5 shutouts in 8.5 games, but she only has 20 saves.
“Her stats really don’t speak to how good she is because she doesn’t always touch the ball,” Stuart said. “She has worked really hard throughout the entire offseason, dedication herself to weekend tournaments.”
Aside from Monday’s goal scored by Middletown’s Aubree Moxley, the only other goals the Hawks allowed this year came in a 2-1 loss to Churchill on Sept. 12.
Stuart and her players thought the Hawks entered this season motivated by their failure to reach the Central Maryland Conference championship game last season. And that setback was caused by their triple overtime loss to rival Linganore.
“So, that was kind of a huge disappointment and letdown, which made us work all the more harder this year,” Stuart said.
No wonder the Hawks point to their 3-0 win over Linganore on Sept. 23 as one of their standout moments so far this season.
“That was the game that had the most emotion attached to it, and I think we all played up to that level,” Clipson said. “And we just didn’t stop. We kept the intensity the entire game.”
Four days after that win, the Hawks got another big victory by beating Oakdale 1-0 in overtime. Turns out, the Hawks will end up facing the Bears in Saturday’s CMC championship game at Hood College.