BEDFORD— Courtney Sweeny scored 1:52 into the first overtime to lead top-ranked Windham to a 2-1 victory over sixth-ranked Merrimack Valley of Penacook for the Division II field hockey Championship at Bedford High Sunday.
It's been a trying season for second-year Windham coach Amanda Ward, whose baby girl, Clairee, died in August at birth. "This team, my girls, have helped me heal," said an emotional Ward after the game. "They've rallied around me since August and we've been a close team the whole year."
Ward said an interesting trend started in the semifinal final game against St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover. "We beat St. Thomas 3-2 in overtime," she said. "We tied the game with eight seconds left and won the game in overtime with five minutes and eight seconds left. Today we won the game in overtime with 13:08 showing on the clock. There's something about the eights and the only thing I can think of is Clairee was with me in August, the eighth month of the year. I know she was with me and our team every step of the way."
Merrimack Valley was trying to make history as a sixth-seeded team. The Pride knocked off No. 11 Milford, No. 3 Souhegan and No. 2 Lebanon to reach the finals.
After a scoreless first half dominated by the Jaguars, Merrimack Valley took the lead with 20:47 to play. Lily Davis scampered down the sideline for 20 yards before centering a pass to Cassidy Huckins for an open six-yard shot past Windham goalie Kelsey Federico, who stopped eight shots.
A turning point took place with 11 minutes left when Merrimack Valley senior defender Autumn Hoyt got hit by the ball on her foot and had to leave the game for a few minutes to recover. Two minutes later, with Hoyt on the sideline, Windham tied the game on a penalty corner with 9:50 left. Taylor Powell fed Justine Levesque who blistered a high shot past Pride goalie Maggie Carey for the equalizer.
Just before the teams took the field for overtime, Ward told her team to do one thing. "I told them to just score," she said. "I didn't care if they did it in the first minute or last. Just score."
Windham (15-1-1), which finished runner-up last season, celebrates its first title in the program's four-year history. Merrimack Valley, under coach Kim Kenney, ends up 12-5-1.
"It would have been great to win the title, but we still had a great season," said Kenney. "Few people thought we'd get this far, so I'm proud of my team."