WOONSOCKET â€“ During the final few minutes of the first half, Woonsocket High goalie Melinda Rice had to contend with a vicious attack by Classical.
But each shot, nearly a half dozen in that short span, Rice thwarted away with her stick or on a diving save.
That was just a sampling of the stellar effort by the talented senior in Thursdayâ€™s Division II clash at Barry Field. She finished her dayâ€™s work with 16 saves, most coming at close range.
But unfortunately for the Villa Novans in their season opener, Classical did manage to find the net once and that proved to be the difference as the Purple bussed home with a 1-0 victory over their rival from the north.
â€śShe was just phenomenal,â€ť said Purple coach Colleen Driscoll, about Rice. â€śSheâ€™s definitely one of the more aggressive goalies in our division. Typically, you donâ€™t see goalies making plays like she was making where sheâ€™s diving for balls. Thatâ€™s a trained goalie. Without question, we should have had more goals; kudos to her and [Woonsocketâ€™s] defense.â€ť
Along with Rice, a three-year starter, Woonsocketâ€™s defense certainly withheld a strong test for its first game of the new season. Those two things had WHS head coach Hilary Switzer satisfied with her teamâ€™s performance on a wet and soggy field.
â€śMelinda was just great and our defense did an awesome job,â€ť Switzer said. â€ś[Senior sweeper] Emily Pearson did a good job getting the ball out of the circle and controlling the left side. [Senior sweeper] Mercedes Gosselin was an offensive player for us before and this was her first time on defense and she proved she can do it.â€ť
â€śAll week we have been working together on communicating,â€ť she added. â€śToday I feel we did that.â€ť
The lone goal in the contest occurred at 16:14 when senior Demetria Apici scored off an assist from senior Danielle Brennan on a penalty corner from the left side of the field. Apici got the ball just outside the crease and fired the ball to the left corner of the net.
But evident by the final score, the game turned out to be more of a defensive battle. Classical (2-0) held a slight edge in shots during the initial half, a total that was boosted by its late flurry the last few minutes.
â€śIt was nerve-wracking for me because I havenâ€™t seen [Rice] play in a game this season,â€ť said Switzer, about the Purpleâ€™s attack before the break. â€śShe certainly proved herself.â€ť
Woonsocket, which finished 6-10-0 last year and has lost just six players from that squad, kept the contest honest in the final half with its hustle and the outstanding play of Rice. Classical appeared to take a 2-0 lead with five minutes left on a close-ranger by a Purple player, but the goal was called back after it was ruled it hit a defenderâ€™s foot inside the circle.
â€śBoth teams had a lot of hustle, a lot of passion,â€ť Driscoll said. â€śThatâ€™s something you donâ€™t see too much lately.â€ť
Woonsocket will next be on the field Tuesday when it travels to Tiverton for a game that was twice postponed this week due to the rain. The Villa Novans are looking to reverse the fortunes of the last few years.
Since its dominating run from 2001-05 when it won a state title (2004) and finished as a runner-up two times (2003, 2005), Woonsocket has not posted a winning record. The Villa Novans suffered through two tough years in Div. I with a combined 5-26-1 record between 2006-07.
Despite coming on the wrong end of the scoreboard, yesterdayâ€™s contest was a good start for the Villa Novans this fall, according to Switzer.
â€śIf we can communicate like we did today,â€ť she said. â€śI think we can do very well.â€ť