Field hockey: Oak Hill goalie tandem an even split

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They also have every reason to be each other’s best friend.

Labbe and Fuller share time in the cage for the Oak Hill field hockey team, often times seeing an even, 50-50 split in each varsity game.

“Both of those girls work so hard,” Oak Hill coach Betsy Gilbert said. Having a new goalie coach this year has really made a big difference in how they practice, and how they play.”

In most games this year, the position has been one of solitude and contemplation for Labbe and Fuller. While the unbeaten Raiders have scored 64 goals in 13 games — an average of nearly five per game — they’ve allowed only six. Among Labbe and Fuller’s nine shutouts — eight of them combined — the pair has been forced to make five total saves or fewer in more than half of the contests.

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“I’m definitely able to come out more and be aggressive, and I know the defense is behind me to help out,” Fuller said. “I’m seeing a lot more shots, which helps a lot. But having a lead is nice.”

But make the saves, the tandem has. And in the games where the duo does make more than a handful of saves, they’ve been ready and able to do so.

“I just know I have to keep my head in the game, so when the ball comes down, I’m ready to stop it,” Fuller said.

“They’re both good at coming out and cutting off the angles,” Gilbert said. “They don’t stand back in the cage. They’re aggressive.”

The biggest reason for that? Practice. The Raiders’ high-powered offense needs to run through its paces, as well, and shooting at an empty cage is of course a fruitless exercise. So in practice, Labbe and Fuller face the brunt of the Oak Hill attack.

“We’ve been working hard the past couple of weeks in practice,” Fuller said. “I know the teams we’re going to be playing are going to get a lot better, and we’ll be seeing more shots.”

As for working in tandem, a situation that can cause angst and pit people against one another, this pair welcomes the even split.

“It’s awesome. It’s great to know that we’re there for each other and we have that confidence in each other,” Fuller said. “We’re there supporting each other and wanting each other to do well.”

“And they’ve both been scored upon, so it’s not like it’s one versus the other,” Gilbert said. “They’re both very equal.”

Gilbert said there was never a reason for which goalie began the game, and which subbed in at the half. Now, there is.

“I’m sure to them it might matter,” Gilbert said, “But to me, I’m such a routine person. We started out (with Fuller first), and that’s the way we’ve stayed. We’re just getting them out there to give them equal time to play.”

“We’re just ready whenever,” Fuller said. “It doesn’t really matter.”

With one regular-season game left on the slate before playoffs begin, the Raiders have started to grind out a few more games. They finished deadlocked with Winthrop at 0-0 through two overtimes, and then went deep into a game against Telstar knotted at 0-0 until a pair of late goals afforded them a 2-0 win.

“That was really close, it was a relief when we scored,” Fuller said.

Perhaps they’re a bit more nervous in a tighter game, but Labbe and Fuller are ready for whatever comes their way.

“They have to have that mental toughness,” Gilbert said. “This is what we’ve been preparing them for, too. At the beginning of the season, they weren’t seeing a lot, but we had to get into their heads and make sure they kept building strong and kept working in practice.”

With all of the similarities, it’s perhaps harder to find a difference or two. If there is one, Gilbert said, it’s subtle.

“They both have been working on their dives, and being able to get up quickly,” Gilbert said. “Megan may have a quicker dive than Abby, but Abby has a longer stride and quicker feet to be able to reach further without diving. I think that’s about the only difference I can find.”

Next in their path is a Lisbon team that hasn’t lost since a 4-0 setback to Oak Hill earlier in the season. Then, it’s playoff season, with a likely rematch with Lisbon in the MVC championship game followed by a Class C quarterfinal, possibly against a team they have yet to face.

But those teams haven’t seen Oak Hill’s goaltending duo yet, either.

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