November 3, 2021

Senior Goalie Blandford Battles Hard to the End As Stuart Field Hockey Falls to MKA in Prep B Final

FORD TOUGH: Stuart Country Day School field hockey goalie Audrey Blandford kicks away a shot in a game this season. Last Wednesday, senior star Blandford made eight saves in a losing cause as top-seeded Stuart fell 1-0 to second-seeded Montclair Kimberley Academy in the state Prep B title game. The Tartans finished the fall with a 11-4-2 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Audrey Blandford was under fire as the top-seeded Stuart Country Day School field hockey team hosted second-seeded Montclair Kimberley Academy (MKA) in the state Prep B title game last Wednesday.

With MKA controlling possession in the first half and generating a number of scoring opportunities, Stuart senior goalie Blandford had to keep on her toes.

“They passed really well and really fast,” said Blandford. “They had their sticks down.”

After MKA broke through with a goal in the second quarter, Blandford and the Stuart defense held the fort from there, but the Tartans couldn’t find the back of the cage as they fell 1-0 and ended the  season with a final record of 11-4-2.

“We played so well today,” said Blandford, who made eight saves in the contest. “I was getting into a rhythm.”

In the second half, Stuart tried to get into a rhythm, getting plenty of possession in the third quarter. In the waning moments of the contest, the Tartans had MKA on its heels, generating two corners and nearly scoring.

“We really kept pushing the right sideline and we kept getting so close every time,” said Blandford.

While the defeat in the title game stung, Blandford was proud of what the Tartans accomplished this fall.
“We lost a lot of seniors from last year but we did a really good job,” said Blandford.

“We worked so hard. Each game, we worked on something else. It was a great year.”

Over the last four years, Blandford developed a great bond with her fellow seniors — Kaitlyn Magnani, Keya Patel, Sanya Khullar, and Lauren Gracias.

“We are very close, it is going to be hard to leave them next year,” said Blandford.

Stuart head coach Missy Bruvik credited her club with playing hard all season long.

“It was our 17th game of the season, we have never had a game where we didn’t have a full effort,” asserted Bruvik.

“We played 60 minutes all year. I felt we did continue to get better as each game went on. So to have a team do that is such a credit to them and their passion for this game and their teamwork. They love doing it for themselves but also for each other.”

Bruvik acknowledged that MKA provided a big challenge as its stifling defense in the circle made things tough on the Tartans.

“I don’t think we had any corners in the first half, they are a talented team,” said Bruvik.

“So offensively getting more opportunities was a challenge for us. I am proud of how we kept fighting at the end of the game. We were able to get a couple of corners, I thought we might put one in.”

The Stuart defense also excelled in the contest. “I thought Alex Mandzij had a terrific game as our center back,” said Bruvik.

“We pushed Kaitlyn [Magnani] up a little more because Alex was hitting some great balls up to the offense.”

In Bruvik’s view, the squad brought a terrific attitude to the field on a daily basis.

“I couldn’t be more proud, the chemistry was there from day one,” said Bruvik.

“They are just great kids as individuals and put them together, it was great.”

Bruvik credited her five seniors with setting a positive tone. “Three of them have been here since kindergarten — Audrey, Kaitlyn, and Keya — it is just great leadership,” said Bruvik.

“Molly Lagay came all the way from Tulane to watch the game so kudos to her, leaving this legacy of still loving the game and passing it on to these kids. Now I think these kids have done the same for our girls moving forward.”

Blandford is leaving quite a legacy with her play and leadership.

“Audrey rose to the occasion game after game; her save-making abilities coupled with her cool headedness sparked confidence from the back line to the attack,” said Bruvik.

“Whether it was clearing a blast off a corner or a scrum on the goal line, Audrey did it all as the last line of defense. As a co-captain and peer leader she made a tremendous impact on our freshman and her teammates in regard to teamwork and perseverance, a truly tremendous leader both on and off the field.”

Blandford, for her part, isn’t ready to give up the game.

“From freshman year to sophomore year was a jump,” said Blandford.

“I did a lot of work outside, I started playing club. I am very happy with where I am right now. I am looking forward to playing club in college.”