Thunder defying odds with short roster

Sentinel file photo Belleville Mennonite’s Alexis Peachey, left, fires the ball.

BELLEVILLE — Belleville Mennonite’s field hockey team is defying the odds.

With only 11 players on the roster, Thunder coach Morgan Foote doesn’t have the luxury of substitutions. They had to finish the Districts 5/6 title game with just 10 on the field.

Some would say Belleville Mennonite’s chances of success are in the slim-to-none range. Fortunately for the Thunder, handicappers often are wrong.

Belleville Mennonite is coming off a 3-2 victory over Forbes Road for the district championship and now faces the Ellis School of the WPIAL in the first round of the PIAA Class A tournament. Game time is set for 4:30 p.m. today at Bald Eagle Area.

“This is the first time anyone on this team has advanced past districts so everyone is pretty excited. BMS doesn’t usually get a whole lot of recognition for athletics so the girls are really enjoying the attention,” Foote said. “I think we’re all excited to see how far our tiny team of 11 can make it in the state playoffs

“During our district game last week one was sent to the ER, leaving us with 10. Thankfully she is fully recovered and cleared to play with us on Tuesday,” the coach said. “I have to give all the glory to God. He really blessed us with a healthy season, meaning no sickness and only a few injuries. That’s a big deal for a team without subs. I think the Lord has rewarded these girls for their hard work and for that we’re so grateful.”

Another key factor is the conditioning of the 11. Foote says it has made a difference for Belleville Mennonite (14-5) this season.

“We’ve pushed the girls pretty hard all season as far as conditioning and staying physically fit. They’ve known from the beginning of the season that in order to make it to districts and beyond, they would have to want it more and work harder than most high school athletes who play on teams with 20-30 girls,” Foote said.

The Tigers (13-2-1) are the team with postseason experience. Ellis defeated Shady Side Academy last week for its fourth WPIAL (District 7) championship in school history. Foote is familiar with the Tigers and expects a difficult battle.

“Ellis has been at our tournament for the past two years. Last year we beat them and this year we didn’t play them but we got to watch two of their games,” Foote said. “I’m expecting them to be a pretty even match for us. If we can keep the ball from a few of their stronger offensive players, I think we’ll be able to control it on our offensive end.”

According to Foote, coming out strong with pressure and scoring early are the keys to victory for the Thunder.

“Our goal is to score right away. We also need to keep it out of the middle, get it to our wings, and use our small passes instead of the long ball. If we can come out strong and control the game, I think we can definitely win,” she said.