Unfortunately for the New Jersey Colonials and Michigan’s Belle Tire, the Tier I 16U Liberty Pool was upset-free this year. The fourth-seeded East Coast Wizards and fifth-seeded Shattuck-St. Mary’s Sabres held serve, which left the Colonials and Belle Tire still seeking a victory on the final day of pool play. They met Saturday in a lunchtime matinee that couldn’t have been more evenly matched.
New Jersey, the No. 13 seed, and Belle Tire, the No. 12 seed, entered play with identical records and near-identical goal differentials. After one period head-to-head, they were tied 1-1. After two periods, they were tied 2-2. After regulation, they were tied 3-3. After overtime, they were still tied. After a five-player shootout, the margin of difference was a single goal – scored off the post by Belle Tire’s Makenna Wiljanen – and a flawless five saves from goaltender Samantha Miller to give the Detroiters a 4-3 victory.
“In the shootout, I like to just slow it down in terms of thinking about it,” said Miller. “It’s just one shot, one shooter at a time. You can make up a strategy, but there’s really no strategy at all. I just focus on the puck. You can’t anticipate, because if you over-anticipate, it goes in every time.”
Miller’s had a fair amount of practice in the Nationals’ spotlight. This was her fourth trip overall and her second at Tier I 16U. She also made it twice at 14U, advancing to the semifinals two years ago.
“It’s definitely a different atmosphere at Nationals,” said Miller. “It’s a lot more nerves, a lot more hype. There are so many teams and players that work so hard to get here. It’s a rush.”
And while they hoped for a better result in the final tournament standings, the Belle Tire girls will certainly savor winning their last game of 2017-18 and using it as a springboard for the future. As for Miller, she’ll soon shed her goalie gear and morph into a lacrosse midfielder for a few months before returning to the ice.
“I have to score goals sometime,” she said.