Buoyed by O’Brien’s Steady Play on Back Line, Hun Field Hockey Advances to MCT Quarters
By Bill Alden
This past spring, Abby O’Brien emerged as the go-to finisher for the Hun School girls’ lacrosse program, tallying a team-leading 70 goals.
But playing in her junior season for the Hun field hockey squad this fall, O’Brien has assumed a much different role, developing into a top defender for the Raiders.
“As the center back, I am the last line of defense there,” said O’Brien.
“I want to do absolutely everything I can to keep that ball out of the goal.”
Juggling the two sports helps O’Brien excel no matter what end of the field she is patrolling.
“I definitely enjoy having this role, it is a great balance to do both,” said O’Brien.
“There are a lot of the same technical things with spacing and things like that so it is really cool to be able to have one in the air and one on the ground.”
Playing at second-seeded Princeton High in the quarterfinals of the Mercer County Tournament last Friday, the 10th-seeded Raiders did a lot of good things as they held undefeated and second-seeded Princeton High to a scoreless stalemate in the first half.
“I think our defense played well, we did everything that we could to try to save those goals,” said O’Brien of Hun, who edged seventh-seeded Allentown 2-1 in the first round last Wednesday to earn a shot at the Tigers.
“They have some really talented attackers. That was a great goal of ours. We didn’t want to just defend, we were trying to pounce on them. That is what we were doing really well.”
In the third period, PHS pounced on the Raiders, scoring three unanswered goals but Hun kept fighting to the final horn as it ended up falling 3-0.
“We kept that throughout the whole game,” said O’Brien, referring to the defensive effort.
“I feel like we gave our all, 100 percent of the time. We finished all four quarters and I think that is all you can ask.”
In O’Brien’s view, the Raiders are in synch this fall.
“I think the biggest thing our team has done throughout
the season is to be able to connect more together,” said O’Brien.
“I think that is what has helped with our success quite honestly.”
Hun head coach Tracey Arndt realized her team faced a big challenge in trying to contain high-powered PHS.
“We knew that Princeton was very strong, we knew that they were on a streak that is remarkable and admirable,” said Arndt.
“We knew we weren’t necessarily getting a shutout, obviously those are always goals. We knew we could keep it tight.”
Arndt credited O’Brien and sophomore goalie Norah Kempson with keeping things tight at the defensive end.
“I have to give credit to Abby O’Brien our center back, she doesn’t get enough credit because she is so steady,” said Arndt.
“She had a defensive save that was in the beginning of the game that could change the trajectory. Norah, our goalie, played out of her mind.”
The Raiders, though, didn’t have the firepower to break down the Tiger defense.
“We don’t have the depth, we have a small team to begin with,” said Arndt.
“We just needed a little bit of a more sustained attack … but they are finishers and they are winners and we are too. They just really know how to put it away.”
Having come into the game riding a four-game winning streak, Hun was disappointed to taste defeat against PHS.
“We have a lot to be happy about and be grateful about,” said Arndt, noting that the team posted a total of four wins over the last two seasons combined.
“Thankfully, they are hungry for more. They are upset with the loss which means they know there are areas we could have improved. We will just take it and learn.”
Hosting the Blair Academy in the opening round of the state Prep A tournament on October 20, Hun will look to apply those lessons.
“These are the games we need, we can pretend that we are as good as we are in practice and then we face those teams and you really know,” said Arndt, whose team ran into a very good squad last Saturday, falling 8-1 at the Hill School (Pa.) in moving to 6-6-1.
“I always love to play top quality teams because it gets us to understand where we want to go. Our girls really want to go to this level so we are going to keep working. I have got a great group.”
O’Brien, for her part, is proud of the great progress she has seen this year.
“We are just trying to improve our program and keep going up from there,” said O’Brien.
“That is what we have done all season. Last year was my first year at Hun and this year we have improved insanely. It is honestly kind of astonishing to me.”