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Grafton's field hockey team opened its 2015 season with a hard-fought 2-0 loss to James Monroe at Bailey Field on Wednesday.
The loss, however, was not without its bright spots for Grafton Head Coach Brooke Feiner.
Replacing seven seniors from last year's team, Feiner expected some growing pains heading into the season. Feiner came away from Wednesday's loss pleasantly surprised, her young team leaving her impressed with their ability to improve from a rough first half that saw James Monroe dominate the pace of play.
"I'm impressed and excited," she said with a grin after the game. "To come out against a team of this caliber and do what we did, I'm not mad. I'm not mad at all. We'll continue growing."
The Clippers saw their best scoring opportunity in the first half come three minutes into the game. Senior captain Sydnie Swartwood threw a ball into the middle in front of the James Monroe net, but none of her teammates were able to get a touch on the ball before it rolled out of play.
James Monroe capitalized quickly on the missed opportunity. Less than two minutes later, Libby King collected a pass from Lizzie Hamlett in front of the Grafton cage and placed it past Grafton goalkeeper Laurel Nicks.
Despite giving up a pair of goals in Wednesday's game, Nicks was arguably the biggest standout for Grafton, recording numerous clutch saves to keep the Clippers within striking distance of James Monroe.
"She played a heck of a game," Feiner said of Nicks, who turned away multiple point-blank scoring opportunities in the closing two minutes of the first half.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the second half, Grafton found a bit of life and began controlling possession more consistently than in the first half.
Roughly 10 minutes into the second half, Grafton was in the midst of an offensive attack when a turnover in the midfield led to a three-on-one breakaway for James Monroe. Coming up big again was Nicks, who turned away what seemed like a guaranteed scoring opportunity to keep the game within one goal.
With 11:40 left in the game, Swartwood found herself again with a scoring opportunity after maneuvering her way into the James Monroe circle and firing a shot that sailed just wide right of the cage. Swartwood had most of the scoring opportunities for Grafton (0-1), but was unable to finish any in the back of the net.
James Monroe (1-0) iced the game with 6:41 remaining when Hamlett slotted a ball past Nicks off a penalty corner from Catesby Willis to go on top 2-0.
"We were doing some good things, taking what we talked about at halftime and taking it to the second half," Feiner said of her team. "We really improved tremendously based on what we wanted to do."
Grafton will continue its season with a road game against Midlothian at 7 p.m. Monday.
James Monroe 2, Grafton 0
Goals: James Monroe (Lizzie Hamlett, Libby King)
Assists: James Monroe (Catesby Willis, Lizzie Hamlett)