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Field Hockey Seniors Seek To Help Young Team Pen A Memorable Final Chapter!
While a season can feel like a marathon, the final game can have a lasting memory on a team. Cheshire High School field hockey reached their second straight Class L title game last fall, but a 4-0 loss against top-seeded Darien prevented them a defense title and three championships for the second season in a row.
Seeded second, CHS (20-3; 10-0 in Southern Connecticut Conference) had an eight-game win streak heading into the title game.
“It was such a rough loss,” reflected forward Olivia Larson, a senior captain with Michelle Federico this fall. “We worked so hard to get (back) there and didn't want the season to end that way for our seniors. We feel like we have to prove ourselves again.”
Cheshire looks to return to that level without nine graduates. Captains Lindsey Bonitz, Miranda Garcia, Emily Hague, and Maggie Kulpa, along with Emily Dooley, Lauren Fountain, Sara Ilnicki, Megan Robles, and Miranda Scaramozza finished with 65 wins, one short of the school record from 1984-87.
“It is definitely going to be a big change. We graduated 21 girls (in 2011) and nine more last year. Everybody says Cheshire is going to have a young team, but we can't wait to surprise people. A lot of girls stepped up in the summer and that has carried over into the fall,” said Federico, a mid-fielder.
“We miss the senior class,” added Larson. “They showed us how important it is to be close as a team.”
The Lady Rams return another strong senior class who enter this fall just 13 wins shy of breaking that career mark. While numbers have dropped off over the years, they like the chemistry of this group. Senior Sammy Trott will manage the team with junior Sara Como.
“When they were freshman, I told them how good they could be,” added Head Coach Eileen Gallagher, who has compiled a 77-18-2-2 record since 2008. “Not all of them stuck with it for four years, but I feel great that these girls played all the way through. It shows their sacrifice and dedication to the program.”
This class has already left their mark at CHS. The Lady Rams have gone unbeaten within the SCC for the last two seasons, a first for the program. Last fall, they won consecutive regular season titles for the first time in school history and became the first team to win two conference tournaments, beating Daniel Hand 1-0. They enter this season having won 30 straight SCC games, including tournaments (school record).
“I think the last two years have set a precedent for this team to strive for,” said Gallagher. “I told the girls that we have to start over and find the identity of this team. We're making it tough to make varsity, so the girls can work hard and move up during the season.”
Gallagher has been pleased with the leadership set by Federico and Larson.
“They've been amazing. They got the girls working hard over the summer and dropped their mile times at the start of practice,” stated Gallagher. “We graduated some phenomenal captains, so they know what is expected of them.”
“I think it helps that Michelle and I are great friends,” said Larson. “We can share the responsibility and experience.”
Federico is coming off a record-setting season in which she more than tripled her scoring (19 goals, 21 assists) from her first two seasons. Not only did she break the single-season assist record, but Federico also set the game record with five in an 8-0 shutout of Sheehan.
Federico received Harrow Sports-National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-Southern New England Region, All-Class L and All-SCC First Teams, SCC Most Outstanding Player, along with team and New Haven Register All-Area MVPs.
She has verbally committed to play Division I at Quinnipiac University, the same school that Gallagher played for from 1999-2002.
“Michelle is so sound. She keeps the ball on her stick and goes through defenders in transition,” stated Federico. “Michelle is going to leave a strong example on this team when she graduates. She has worked hard to emerge as in my opinion, the top player in Connecticut.”
Classmate Emma Farrel, a forward, also returns among the best statistical players (57 goals, 35 assists) to come through the program. She has been the top goal scorer in each of her first three seasons, converting 21 times last year.
With 11 assists in 2012, Farrel (All-Class L Second Team/All-SCC First Team/New Haven Register All-Area) needs seven more to eclipse the career mark of Rebecca Slisz (41; 1987-90). She is 22 points and 35 goals from passing former standout Wendi Kemp (113, 91; 1978-81) in both categories.
Farrel, a two-time Offensive Player of the Year, set the freshman goal record (12) and became the school's first 20-20 player (24 goals, 20 assists) as a sophomore. As a junior, she came up clutch in the post-season. Farrel scored the lone goal in the 2012 SCC final and added two more to help her team rally by South Windsor 2-1 in the Class L quarterfinals.
She is currently working back from injuries.
“Emma has to get healthy,” said Gallagher. “I can't wait for the underclassman to see the aggressiveness she brings to the field.”
Larson (Rookie of the Year; six goals, eight assists) and classmate Danielle Bellantonio (Most Improved; two goals and assists) were also recognized at the end of last season. Larson chipped in a goal and an assist to help Cheshire eliminate William Hall 3-1 in the Class L First Round. According to Federico, Larson came out of her shell last fall.
“Starting for the first time as a junior and getting that award gave me confidence,” reflected Larson. “I grew up a lot.”
“Olivia looks strong and fit,” stated Gallagher. “She has taken on that leadership role and run with it.”
Bellantonio saved her best game for the 2012 Class L semifinal, supplying a goal and two assists in a 5-1 win over Simsbury.
“I'm so proud of her. Danielle looks so smooth around the ball right now,” said Gallagher. “She was frustrated about her playing time at the start of last season, so she kept working until by the end of the year she was one of our most consistent players.”
Defense will be key to the team's success in 2013. The graduation of Bonitz (All-SCC First Team/P.L.A.Y.E.R Award), Hague (All-SCC Second Team; Babson College-Babson Park, Mass.), Ilnicki, and Fountain makes for a new unit.
Bonitz and Hague were consistent leaders as full-time starters for two years in which Cheshire had 14 shutouts each season. They both received All-Class L Second Team and New Haven Register All-Area. With 17 defensive saves last fall, Bonitz broke the single-season and career records (21). Hague added seven.
“Those seniors made it easy for me to coach them,” reflected Gallagher. “It's nerve-racking starting over. This is the first time that I don't have a lot of experience back to start the year.”
Junior Maggie O'Reilly did see time defensively at the beginning of the 2012 season.
“We're looking for her to display leadership back there now,” Gallagher said.
Senior goalkeeper Maddy Levy, who backed up Fountain last year and started in a 9-0 win over Sacred Heart Academy, will provide further experience in the back. Her highlight came in the 2012 SCC semifinals against Branford. With the rivals scoreless through regulation and overtime, the game had to be decided in penalty strokes. Levy substituted for Fountain, making two saves to help Cheshire win 4-2 and advance to the title game.
“I think being under pressure is good experience. You can't get that that in practice,” explained Levy. “My team supported me by making those (penalty) strokes.”
“That was the most exciting game. When you win like that against a rival, you realize how good you can be as a team,” recalled Larson. “Maddy is outstanding in goal.”
For that experience and more, Levy feels like a different player this year.
“After watching Lauren (Fountain) play a lot, I'm ready for the challenge,” Levy said. “I'm pretty confident about the new defense. We have skilled players on this team.”
“Maddy's confidence has skyrocketed,” added Gallagher. “This is the player we have wanted for four years.”
While CHS graduated Garcia (seven goals and assists; Cheshire Junior Women’s Club Leadership Award) and Kulpa (three assists; Record Journal Scholar Athlete) from the lineup, Erica Stauffer (forward; four goals, three assists) and Mikayla Crieger (mid-field; three goals and assists) both saw significant minutes as sophomores last year.
“You can see their experience paying off now,” said Gallagher. “Miranda played on varsity for four years, so it is tough to lose her. Maggie improved every year and made the team at Stevens (Institute of Technology-Hoboken, N.J.).”
Cheshire is looking for underclassmen and upperclassmen to fill vacated positions around the field. Along with the graduates, Kathleen Lima, a three-year letterwinner, transferred to Northfield Mount Hermon (Mass.). Lima supplied 10 goals and six assists in 2012. Dooley also added an assist in her final season.
Kya O’Donnell, who scored her first two goals last fall, returns among multiple juniors vying for varsity time. Allie Rosadino and Ashley Tartaglia round out the senior class.
“This is a younger team than in the past,” explained Gallagher. “We have to get better at fundamentals. With so many new girls working together, we have to start with the basics.”
“I'm excited for girls to get their chance to play varsity,” stated Federico.
The Lady Rams traditionally start the season against SCC rivals Guilford (Tuesday, 6 p.m.; Oct. 23, 7 p.m.), Branford (Sept. 13, 7 p.m.; Oct. 4, 6 p.m.), and Hand (Sept. 17, 7 p.m.; Oct. 8, 6 p.m.).
“The top four (teams) are always good. I think anyone can beat anyone this year,” stated Gallagher.
CHS shut out SHA (5-0), Branford, and Hand in winning last year's SCC Tournament at home.
“Winning the SCC is our goal every year,” said Larson.
CHS will go outside the conference, as well. They host New Canaan on Oct. 5 at 3 p.m., along with visiting Farmington (Sept. 19, 4 p.m.) and Greenwich (Oct. 12, 1 p.m.).
“Those games will be good tests for us,” explained Larson. “We can see what we need to work on.”
“It's the same strong schedule we've had in the last few years,” added Gallagher.
With Assistant Sarah Izzo moving to Massachusetts, Sandi Vermuelen has become the Junior Varsity coach. Vermuelen worked with the goalkeepers last year. Michelle Libby returns to coach freshmen.
Farrel and Federico have started games since freshman year.
“It is bittersweet,” said Federico. “I'm excited to be a senior, but I love everything about Cheshire field hockey and don't want to leave anytime soon. If we have to go out, we want it to be on top.”
Photo of (from left) Tartaglia, Farrel, Bellantonio, Rosadino, Levy, Larson, Federico, and Trott was taken by Allen Paul/Cheshire Herald.