(Photo by Bill Allen/NJSportAction)
BREAKING THE ICE: Stuart Country Day junior star Kelly Bruvik, right, fights for possession last Saturday in Stuart's 2-1 win over previously undefeated Allentown in the Mercer County Tournament field hockey final. Bruvik scored two goals for the Tartans who had been shut out by Allentown in the last two MCT title games. of caption
Stuart Field Hockey Topples Allentown To Earn First-Ever Outright MCT Crown
By Bill Alden
It started at 10:00 a.m. last Saturday morning but it had the feel of a High Noon shootout.
It was the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) field hockey final matching the area's top guns with second-seeded Stuart Country Day (15-0-1) duelling top-seeded Allentown (14-0).
After having fallen to Allentown in the last two MCT finals, Stuart hit the turf field at Mercer County Community College on the chilly, breezy day convinced that it had the weapons to make the third time a charm.
The clubs battled back and forth for much of the first half until Tartan junior attacker Kelly Bruvik drew first blood, breaking free in t
he circle and banging in a shot to give Stuart a 1-0 lead with 6:46 left in the period.
With Stuart clinging to that lead after the half-time break, Bruvik found the range again as she streaked down the field, getting behind the Allentown defense and finishing with aplomb to give the Tartans a 2-0 edge with 19:53 remaining in regulation.
The Redbirds turned up the heat, breaking through with a goal with 1:10 left in the period. Inspired by shouts from the coaching staff and the reserves on the bench, the Tartans stymied Allentown in a harrowing last minute to earn the title and set off a riotous celebration punctuated with group hugs and shrieks of joy.
Taking a break from the post-game jubilation, Stuart senior defender Margaret Henry maintained that the Tartans used their underdog status to their advantage.
"We came in with no doubts," asserted Henry with a grin. "The philosophy was to leave it all out there, we had nothing to lose. I think they underestimated us a little bit. I think we were able to capitalize on the fact that they are coming out thinking they had beaten Stuart the last two years and that it was going to be like the last two years."
Henry and her colleagues on the back line were determined to make a difference in their third crack at the high-powered Redbirds.
"We've worked a lot this year on tightening the wall," explained Henry. "This was one of the best games our defense has played all year. We played so well. We came out with the thought that we are going to take this from them."
Offensive star Bruvik cited the team's speed and transition game as factors that made the difference as Stuart won its first outright MCT title, having shared the 1995 crown with Nottingham.
"I think we are faster this year," said Bruvik, who now has 22 goals this season. "We had a lot of help from the back. Our transition game starts inside the circle. We could just go up front and Jackie [Gaudioso-Radvany] and Alice [Murnen] sent me some really good balls. We really wanted to play them again, it means a lot to beat the best."
It meant a lot to Bruvik to break the ice with her first half goal. "We've never scored on them," said Bruvik with a laugh. "That was our first goal against then; it got everyone fired up."
Stuart head coach Missy Bruvik was fired up by how her team completed a week that saw it play it five games in six days as it competed in both the MCT and the state Prep tourney.
"For us to play at this level by the end of the week where every game has meant so much and this is the biggest game, is a tribute to the focus of the girls," asserted Bruvik. "We obviously had great momentum going into this game. Regardless of what happened, we were going to support each other to the end. It's an amazing group of kids."
Bruvik acknowledged that she needed an amazing effort from her daughter, Kelly, and the rest of the front line to break through against Allentown. "We've been stymied against them; we lost 0-1 and 0-2 the other two times we played them here," recalled Bruvik.
"I think the confidence that they've had all season in putting the ball in certainly paid off today. Jackie and Kelly really work well together. Alice took control of the midfield, she led the transition from both ends."
Stuart has showed increasing confidence in its play at the defensive end. "They've really come to know where each other are on the field," said Bruvik, whose star senior goalie Christa Goeke made six saves in shutting the door on Allentown.
"I think that every game this week, they have improved. There hasn't been a team that hasn't challenged us and that's allowed the defense to step up and go after the ball."
Stuart's defense came up big again last Monday as the Tartans battled Princeton Day School to a 0-0 deadlock.
The Tartans face one more week of challenges as they go after the state Prep crown, hosting PDS in a rematch this Wednesday in the Prep semis. The winner of that clash will take on the victor of the Hun-Lawrenceville semi in the title game on November 6.
Henry, for her part, is hoping for another busy week. "We say it's tough and we try not to complain," said Henry referring to the team's jam-packed schedule.
"I think overall that we love it. We live for tournament time. You just keep going. The adrenaline is always high, the energy is always high. Every game from now on is the most important game of the season."