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Rye Neck Field Hockey Reaches Sectional Final

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- The smiles on the faces of the Rye Neck field hockey players, the tears of joy, the sheer excitement and euphoria captured the moment following the Panthers’ game. The emotion was demonstrated after second-seeded Rye Neck defeated third-seeded North Salem, 1-0 in a Section 1 Class C Championship semifinal, Friday, sending the Panthers to the title game.

Rye Neck will play top-seeded Bronxville, Sunday, 1 p.m., at Arlington High School in Dutchess County. This will be Rye Neck’s first appearance in the final since 1998. The Panthers won the New York State Class D title that year.

Current Rye Neck modified field hockey coaches Beth Gulotta and Lina Carolini played on the state-title team. Carolini alerted the team that in ‘98, Rye Neck beat North Salem in the semifinals and Bronxville in the final. This brought a loud cheer from the current varsity players.

“We have worked so hard for this, since August,” said Nicole Morgan, who scored in the first half. “It’s phenomenal!” The players were met by proud parents, snapping pictures quicker than the blink of an eye.

It was Rye Neck’s 12th victory of what has been an outstanding season. Since Niki Bolnik became the coach, in 2008, the Panthers have improved each year and advanced a step further in sectionals.

“We love Coach Bolnik,” Morgan said. “She is like my second mom and my field hockey role model. She has instilled such a belief in us and has created such an amazing program and family for Rye Neck field hockey.”

Rye Neck wasted little time getting on the scoreboard. The Panthers, who went scoreless on 15 penalty corners in the second half of their victory over Croton, Wednesday, needed just two to convert.

Nicole Miller inserted the ball to Morgan at the top of the circle and she ripped a shot into goal at the 7:47 mark. The sound of the ball smacking the board in the back of the goal, was sweet to hear, along with scoring on a corner.

“In practice, yesterday, we focused on collectively connecting on corners,” Morgan said. “Nicole gave me a great insert pass. Normally, I aim for the opposite corner, but it went straight and when it hit the board in the goal, it was the best sound I heard.”

The teams played evenly the remainder of the first half. Rye Neck came out and controlled the second half, limiting North Salem to no shots through the first 21 minutes. North Salem responded in the final nine minutes and threw a scare into Rye Neck in the final seconds.

North Salem was awarded a penalty corner, its’ first of the second half, with one second on the clock. Following the insert pass, a Rye Neck foul in the circle led to a second corner, but the Panthers persevered. “It was all or nothing on those corners,” Morgan said. “I could hear our fans screaming defense so we all just sprinted out there.”

Rye Neck had added motivation to win this game. The last time Rye Neck hosted North Salem in a sectional play-off game, in 2008, the Tigers won in strokes. “I was an eighth-grader and I remember watching that game and seeing how devastated the seniors were,” Morgan said. “We were having a pasta party the other night and when we found out North Salem won, the seniors screamed, ‘We have to win!’ ”

North Salem coach Jen Frohman was proud of her girls in defeat. She explained it had been a tough week for her players, many of whom have been without power since last weekend’s snowstorm. That, plus being out of school and being unable to practice on their home field, were more obstacles North Salem faced.

“I give Rye Neck credit for converting a corner,” Frohman said. “At halftime, I told my girls they were playing very well. The girls played hard throughout. We have a young team with five sophomores starting, but this gives us a lot of hope for the future.”

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