WEBSTER GROVES — In a six-day stretch in September, the Nerinx Hall field hockey team suffered lopsided losses to both MICDS and Villa Duchesne, the two teams that met in the Midwest Tournament championship game last season.
A few days later, the Markers left for Louisville with the mission of closing the gap between themselves and the two area powerhouses.
They have not lost since.
Olivia Bell and Amy Kaufmann scored off corner opportunities and Jane Whelan notched her fourth shutout as the Markers defeated Visitation 2-0 on Wednesday to win their seventh consecutive game and remain unbeaten in their last 10 contests.
Nerinx Hall (13-4-2) used the emotion of senior day festivities to immediately go on the attack. The Markers earned their first corner less than 30 seconds into the game and forced Visitation senior goalie Jordan Tierney to make two outstanding saves, one with the blocker, and the other with her right pad on a blistering backhand by Bell.
“We have moments when we dominate and the first half was one of those,” Nerinx Hall coach Jody Patterson said. “We were really playing well and passing well.”
With just under six minutes remaining in the half, Nerinx senior Mia Fields pushed the ball into the foot of a Visitation defender, earning a third corner and setting up the Markers first goal.
“It was going to be a short set and I wanted to get a shot off as quick as possible,” Fields said. “I hit in there and Olivia tipped it around the goalie into the net. The first half was so intense and to take the lead was incredible.”
Bell was assessed a five-minute penalty early in the second half and the Markers, despite being shorthanded a player, continued to generate scoring opportunities. But Visitation freshman defender Tess Reed calmly stopped several dangerous passes from reaching their destinations and guided them to safety.
“(Reed) is one of our best, if not our best player,” Visitation coach Kristin Collins said. “She played really well.”
Immediately upon her return to the field, an inspired Bell earned a corner and Fields appeared to give the Markers a second goal. Her arcing shot eluded Tierney, but the shot was deemed too high and the goal was disallowed.
Visitation (12-6) pounced on the change in momentum, mounting a furious four-minute charge. The Vivettes earned two corners, senior Cameron Murphy launched a shot that was deflected inches wide of the cage and forward Annie Keeney got loose behind the defense on a breakaway.
“When we get momentum, we usually excel off of it,” Collins said. “We just couldn’t finish.”
The inability to finish had less to with the Vivettes and more to do with Nerinx Hall senior defender Hannah Wilson, who thwarted numerous scoring attempts including racing back to cut off Keeney on her breakaway.
“A lot of it is a mental game more than it is a physical game,” Wilson said. “If you just don’t have the mental mindset, you can break so easily.”
After a tense four minutes and a subsequent timeout, Nerinx Hall regained its composure earning an eighth corner. Fields sent a shot off the pads of Tierney that senior Amy Kaufmann gathered and tucked into the cage for a two-goal advantage.
“Coach (Patterson) always says, ‘Get on pads’ so I just got on pads, reversed my stick and pushed it right through the goalie’s legs.” Kaufmann said. “It felt like victory.”
Victories have been plentiful for Nerinx Hall lately as the Markers have clearly placed themselves in position to make a run for a Midwest Tournament championship.
“My teammates are out there supporting me, trusting each other,” Wilson said. “We’ve just come so much closer in our relationships with each other and the connection really shows on the field.”