Think “Long Island field hockey” and, most likely, Garden City and Ward Melville aren’t far from that thought. And they shouldn’t be. Those programs, more than any, have become hallmarks of excellence and consistency.
Ward Melville, the queen of Class A, has won four straight Long Island titles and eight since 1998. Garden City has captured 27 Nassau titles since 1982 and won six straight Class B L.I. championships.
That’s a whole lot of winning. But there’s a whole lot of graduation.
Garden City lost eight seniors from last year’s squad… But would you be shocked if they were back in the state final? Ward Melville graduated 11 (of its 23 players) after reaching the state semis – and they’re still seeded first in Suffolk Division I.
Roster turnover is a part of sports. Professional teams lose good players to free agency, but that, in some cases, can be remedied with money. In high school, though, there’s no way around four-years-and-out, and teams often have to take a step back to rebuild. But these two, for so long, have seemed immune. It’s like a field hockey assembly line, churning out quality teams, almost without fail.
New look, new leaders, and so often, same results.
“Every year we lose a bunch of people but we have younger kids that step up to take those roles,” said Garden City’s Alexandra Bruno, the reigning Nassau Player of the Year, now a senior. “We lost some big guns from last year’s team, but we have kids who can fill those shoes and get it done.”
Stars like Mikaela Rix, Katie McCarthy, Caroline Tarzian, Gabi Nesi and Erin Mullins are off to college. So get (more) familiar with names like Bruno, Catherine Dickinson, Tara Mahon, Catherine McTiernan and Laura Fanning.
Bruno said the lineup will be rejiggered and among the changes will be her playing center-midfield full-time in place of Rix.
“It’ll be harder for me,” said Bruno, who is committed to Princeton. “It’ll take more conditioning because I’ll have to run a lot more, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s a different dynamic being a senior and a captain of the team.”
Bruno, who’s also an All-American lacrosse player, said she spent much of the summer practicing field hockey on her own in preparation for the fall. (When she wasn’t playing lax with her travel team.)
The Trojans wrapped up camp last week and begin their pre-season on Aug. 29.
Ward Melville has a tall order, returning only three seniors and having to replace All-American midfielder Abby Beltrani (scroll down on this blog if you're unaware of her resume) and all-state goalie Lauren Tarantino, along with other big contributors like Samantha Jacobson, Kaila Malone and Callie Vitalo.
Patriots coach Shannon Watson said her team will now rely heavily on its “three-headed monster” for leadership. That’s seniors Vanessa Pryor, Kim Geiger and Lindsay McCulloch.
“It’s going to be different and I think we’ll have to be leaders on and off the field,” said Pryor, an all-state midfielder headed to Northeastern. “The first challenge will be getting to know the team. We lost almost half our team so there'll be new faces. We have to get on the same page and work with each other. Once we do that, I think we'll be fine. Even if the other teams have more chemistry right now, we can catch up. I don't think it'll be that much of an issue.”
She hinted the team could do some slight tinkering with its base formation and said in order to compensate for Beltrani, “We’ll have to move the ball around more so everyone gets a touch. Everybody will have to contribute more on offense.”
Pryor spent a part of her summer in Virginia Beach, training with the U.S. Field Hockey Futures Program and said the experience can only be beneficial.
Ward Melville begins its pre-season this week and will be holding tryouts and two-a-day practices.
“I’m extremely confident in what our team can be,” she said. “I think we have a lot of talent and potential, and we have an amazing coach. We’ll do well.”