Search all you want, but you won’t find a photo of the Northport field hockey team holding up a number one with their fingers . . . before Nov. 13.
After the Tigers defeated Cicero-North Syracuse, 2-1, in the state final that day, the team finally accepted the request from their family and friends to do so.
The refusal to signify that they were champions until that moment exemplified one thing: They wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than another state championship.
Northport went back-to-back with another undefeated season, going 23-0 and amassing a 44-0 record over the past two seasons. This season, they outscored opponents 101-5.
“That was the way they were going to achieve that goal this season,” said coach Gina Walling of the Tigers claiming their second straight state crown. “It was about staying humble and hungry for them from the start.”
Northport averaged six points per game in its first seven matchups. It wasn’t until they defeated Bayport-Blue Point in a non-league contest, 1-0, that the Tigers would be held to a single goal.
“This was the first team to put a lot of pressure on us in the circle,” said senior forward Julia Cavallo, who scored in the 58th minute. “We really saw our defense step up.”
Walling credits that game as a shift in the season to a defensive mindset. Brooke Dalton-Vafeades, Emily Maloney, Samantha Ferrara, and Caitlin O’Malley succeeded the graduating class of defenders as Northport’s brand new unit.
“They responded to that pressure in an incredibly strong way,” Walling said. “Defense wins championships, and I knew they had the skills to take us back to the playoffs.”
Senior midfielder Olivia McKenna, who scored 16 goals in the playoffs, played a major role in the Tigers’ success on offense. Whether it was making hard-hitting passes to Emma McLam, Sydney Wotzak, and Cavallo, or firing a shot on goal, McKenna was at the forefront.
Four of McKenna’s goals came in Northport’s 8-1 win over Kingston in the state regionals. As the Tigers rolled to the semifinals against Scarsdale, tthey faced their greatest test.
Possession wavered between the two teams throughout regulation, sending Northport to its first overtime period since the spring of 2021.
But in a seven-on-seven battle, the Tigers knew they had the advantage. Goalkeeper Natalie McKenna, Olivia’s twin sister, allowed just four goals to that point in the season, and with relentless defense and a speedy, cohesive offense, Northport took care of the sudden victory pressure. They beat Scarsdale, 1-0, after a last-minute goal by Olivia McKenna.
In the finals against Cicero-North Syracuse, it would once again be in overtime that the Tigers would get to flex their strengths in the McKennas. Natalie made three pivotal saves and Olivia once again scored the winning goal, this time off a penalty stroke.
Despite 11 of the seniors graduating, including Natalie, Olivia, McLam, Wotzak, Cavallo and Dalton-Vafeades, Walling knows that they have passed down to the younger players the true meaning of being a champion.
And you can guarantee that you won’t see a No. 1 finger up again until they win another state championship.