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Cheshire Field Hockey Wants To Prove They Are Still A Contender!
For their last two years of field hockey, Cheshire High School senior Lauren Fountain and junior Maddy Levy watched Maria Blois play stellar goalkeeper. Blois’ graduation has opened the door for a friendly competition to find who will inherit the position this fall.
“It feels a little weird,” said Fountain. “We looked up to Maria to guide us.”
While attending Quinnipiac University, Blois is still volunteering her time to helping the girls. Blois, who only played the sport for two years, was vital to the program winning three titles for the first time in 2011. Along with All-Southern New England/All-Class L First Team/All-Southern Connecticut Conference Second Team, Blois was among 16 players nationwide to receive Harrow Sports/National Field Hockey Coaches Association First Team All-American. Sarah Rahn, the most recent girl to receive that honor, was recognized 20 years earlier.
“It’s good because we are familiar with her,” added Fountain.
Scrimmages have also helped Fountain and Levy prepare for the transition from junior varsity to varsity.
“You learn skills in JV and then carry them onto varsity,” said Levy.
“The game is a lot faster and intense,” stated Fountain. “JV is more about having fun and finding your place.”
The situation at goalkeeper is reflective of CHS field hockey as a whole. After graduating 20 seniors from last year's team that earned the state's top ranking for the first time since 1996, Cheshire feels they have a great opportunity to show the depth of their program.
“We aren't satisfied with last year’s success,” said Head Coach Eileen Dunham, who has a 57-15-2-2 record since 2008. “We are at 0-0 and it will take hard work to get back to where we want to be. The girls have accepted the challenge.”
“We want to prove ourselves a lot more this year,” explained junior forward Emma Farrel. “Teams don’t think we can do it (win championships) because we lost a lot of people.”
The 2011 season was key to bringing championships back to a program of strong tradition. Cheshire won their final 21 games, setting records for overall mark (22-1), consecutive wins, and victories without a tie.
“It was really good just having the three flags with our names on it,” stated Maggie Kulpa, a senior captain with Lindsey Bonitz, Miranda Garcia, and Emily Hague. “We could say we were there. We hope we’re going to be there (those finals again) this year.”
Cheshire hadn't been Southern Connecticut Conference regular season champion (10-0) since 2003. By rallying for a 2-1 win over host Guilford, CHS won their first SCC Tournament crown. The Class of 2012 capped the journey by beating Norwalk 1-0 in the Class L Final to end a decade drought without a state crown.
“It was four years of what they wanted. It was great to see their faces after they won the state championship. They showed pure joy,” reflected Dunham. “There is a new feeling now. Last year's team was so experienced. It was natural getting started because the coaches and players had been around each for so long. We are figuring things out right now, but I like the attitude the girls have about this season.”
While smaller than last year’s senior group, nine girls want to graduate on a similar note. Fountain, Emily Dooley, Sara Ilnicki, and Megan Robles, along with manager Miranda Scaramozza, join the captains.
“They taught us how to keep the energy and spirit of the team and keep everybody enthusiastic about it,” said Garcia, of the graduates.
“I let the seniors know that they killed it in the fitness test,” stated Dunham. “They were itching all summer to get back in the mix.”
After starting full-time for the first time last fall, Bonitz and Hague are returning leaders of the defense.
Bonitz, who hadn’t seen varsity minutes before her junior season, was awarded Rookie of the Year. Hague started a couple games as a sophomore. That experience contributed to her Most Improved Award in 2011.
“They were consistent throughout the whole year. It is nice to have them come back,” Dunham said.
Together with Blois and fellow graduate/three-year starting back Anna Marcucilli, Cheshire rivaled any of the premier defenses from Connecticut. Blois produced 14 shutouts, one short of the single-season CHS record, and only allowed two goals in the last 15 games last year. A 4-2 win at Mercy was the only contest in which the opposition scored more than a goal. Blois received MVP of her team, SCC Tournament, Class L Final, and Connecticut High School Coaches Association Senior All-Star Game.
“It‘s awesome to have her back coaching. In just two years, Maria became one of our most passionate players on the team,” said Dunham. “She is challenging our goalies to be the best players they can be.”
According to Dunham, the goalkeeper spot is still undecided, adding that Fountain and Levy have their strengths and weaknesses. Dunham, along with the players, like the competition to reach their potential.
“It’s real exciting to see how they are going to fit in. They’ve both looked really good,” stated Bonitz.
CHS allowed just eight goals total last fall while compiling 83 goals and 66 assists. The defense played at their peak at Class L, out-scoring the competition 9-0. Blois saved penalty strokes in each of the last two shutouts against Greenwich (2-0) and Norwalk.
Marcucilli, a graduated captain with Lauren Anderson, Anna Frenzilli, and Alyssa Hague, was twice Defensive Player of the Year, 2011 MVP, and 2009 Rookie of the Year. She was also a weapon on penalty corners, scoring the lone goal of Cheshire’s 1-0 shutout of Staples in last year’s Class L quarterfinals. Marcucilli had three goals and seven assists last fall.
“Anna is just as huge as losing Maria,” stated Dunham, who felt Marcucilli had the strongest drive she has seen. “She controlled the whole field and had people commenting on her game throughout the state.”
After Marcucilli mentored Hague and Bonitz, they are now doing the same for sophomore Maggie O’Reilly.
“We lost a big voice (and) hitter, but we are adjusting well,” said Emily Hague, whose older sister Lauren captained the 2009 team and younger sister Caroline is a sophomore.
Despite the departure of Anderson (two-time Offensive Player of the Year; 18 goals, 16 assists) and Alexis Sansone (three goals and assists each), Cheshire returns plenty of offensive firepower. Farrel, who broke the CHS freshman goal record (12) and took 2010 Rookie of the Year honors, outdid herself last year. Farrel eclipsed records for points (44) and assists (20), becoming the first Cheshire player to crack 20 goals (24) and assists each in the same season. Jennifer Hoskins (43 points; 1986) and Rebecca Slisz (19 assists; 1990) previously held records.
“Emma is an animal and so excitable on the field,” added Dunham. “She brings passion to any sport she plays.”
In a 9-0 shutout at Sacred Heart Academy last year, Farrel (All-Class L Second Team/All-SCC First Team) produced a career-high three goals and assists apiece. She also scored the game-winner (2-1) of an overtime thriller at New Canaan. Despite her statistics, Farrel puts the team first. She enjoyed sharing 2011 Offensive Player of the Year with Anderson.
“I love assists because I like seeing other player’s celebrate,” explained Farrel, who needs 18 assists to break the CHS career mark of Slisz (41; 1987-90). “I remember (classmate) Michelle (Federico’s) first goal during freshman year. It was so exciting.”
The friends were crucial to the rally in the SCC title game. Farrel, who converted two penalty strokes at Guilford last fall, used her second tally to tie the score 1-1 with just 2:12 left.
“It was really exciting,“ recalled Farrel. “I felt relaxed because my team had faith in me and it took the pressure off.”
Federico followed up by posting her first game-winner (3:12) in 7-versus-7 action.
“Michelle is one of the hardest working people on our team and it was great to see her get credit for that goal,” added Farrel.
The impact of Federico, a mid-fielder, went beyond her two goals and an assist.
“In a year, Michelle has gone from one of the most underrated players to our best all-around player. She is going to stand out in the state this year,“ explained Dunham.
Like Farrel and Federico, classmate Kathleen Lima (three goals and assists each) has started since freshman year. Lima posted the only goal (1-0) of the team’s 1-0 win over North Haven last season. She is a mid-fielder who also pushes forward.
“Kathleen has a good stick and great game sense,” stated Dunham.
Garcia, who also received Rookie of the Year as a freshman, is also coming off her best season at forward. She contributed 11 goals and four assists, the biggest goal of which came in the first half of the Class L Final.
“It gave me a lot of heart in the game. It made me realize just how big the team is and how we can get behind everything,” reflected Garcia. “I’m excited to go back (Class L Final) and get it again this year.”
“Miranda has come out strong. She wants her senior season to be the best of her life,” Dunham said.
Dunham has brought up the story of Anderson when speaking to her deep sophomore class. While never playing before freshman year, Anderson was 2008 Rookie of the Year at forward and became goalkeeper when it was necessary the following year. She proceeded to add 29 goals and assists apiece in the last two seasons, posting her first two hat tricks in 2011. She had six game-winners as an upperclassman, including a 1-0 win over Branford last season that clinched the SCC regular season crown in overtime. Alyssa Hague assisted that emotional goal.
“Lauren knew what she needed to do every year,” reflected Dunham. “I was worried about that sophomore jinx, but she just kept getting better to the point where she was one of the best players in the state.”
Junior Olivia Larson, Cheshire’s top goal scorer in this summer’s Nutmeg State Games 18-U Tournament, is emerging as a forward on the right side.
“It’s real exciting to see (the girls) all step up and fill in the spots for them (graduates),” added Kulpa.
Dunham felt her mid-field was the unsung heroes of last year’s team, including graduates Alyssa Hague (All-SCC Second Team/Cheshire Junior Women‘s Leadership Award; goal, six assists) and Frenzilli (P.L.A.Y.E.R. Award; three goals, five assists).
“They were such great leaders and skilled players. They weren’t recognized on the state level, but we know what they meant to the program,” said Dunham.
Kulpa, whose sister Emily graduated as manager, is transitioning from coming off the bench to playing extended minutes at right mid-field. She chipped in an assist in 2011.
“Maggie looked really solid at Nutmegs,” said Dunham. “She is our team organizer.”
Juniors Danielle Bellantonio and Ashley Tartaglia, along with sophomore Mikayla Crieger and Dooley, are working on the left side of the mid-field.
“Emily could be our first sub off the bench because she is versatile and can help us on defense,” added Dunham.
This season marks Cheshire’s first at Cheshire Alumni Turf and Track. The Lady Rams host Branford (Friday, 3:30 p.m.; Oct. 22, 3:45 p.m.), Daniel Hand (Sept. 18, 3:45 p.m.; Oct. 13, 12 p.m.), Mercy (Sept. 21, 6 p.m.), Farmington (Sept. 24, 3:45 p.m.), and Sheehan (Sept. 25, 6 p.m.) consecutively after opening on Tuesday at Guilford. CPTV Sports will broadcast the opener, beginning at 7 p.m.
“We could use the grass to our advantage because most teams can’t play on grass, but I think we’ll be a better team on the turf,” explained Emily Hague.
Branford was the only team to beat Cheshire, 1-0, last fall. The Lady Rams bounced back to beat them twice, the second contest (4-0) of which came in the SCC semifinals, to win the season series.
Cheshire plays more top competition outside the SCC. They visit New Canaan on Oct. 6 at 3 p.m. and then welcome Greenwich 12 days later (5 p.m.).
As a program, the Lady Rams have won 15 straight regular season games and sit at 544 victories overall.
“It’s really exciting,” stated Dunham, of nearing a milestone. “Arlene Salvati did so much in founding this team. Approaching 550 (wins) is a credit to her and all the players.”
Photo of Bonitz, Garcia, Emily Hague, and Maggie Kulpa was taken by Allen Paul/Cheshire Herald. Picture of Fountain (left) and Levy (right), along with the team, were taken by Greg Lederer/Cheshire Herald.