MADISON — Entering this season, Hand field hockey coach Sue Leckey believed the first four games of the season against tough Southern Connecticut Conference rivals Cheshire, Laurelton Hall and Branford and FCIAC power Darien could define what the season would be like in 2017.
The Tigers started 3-0-1 with wins over the three SCC rivals and a scoreless tie with the Blue Wave.
“I’m not surprised by our successful play this season, but I’m always pleasantly surprised to get goals and wins against top competitors,” Leckey said. “I know we have players, but it is such a challenging sport to sustain wins in, especially in such a competitive league.
“So many teams make us play our best to beat them, and we’ve had to battle hard to get some of our wins, overtime wins and ties. Being battle tested should be good for us in the post season.”
Hand junior midfielder Taylor Leckey, Sue Leckey’s daughter, believes it was important for the Tigers to beat Cheshire, Branford, Lauralton Hall and tie Darien to kick off the season.
“I’m not surprised by the success that our team has been able to achieve on both offense and defense,” Taylor Leckey said. “I think we’ve always had the potential to be as successful as we have been, it was just up to the team on whether we were going to implement it on both ends of the field. We have done it as a team. I think the chemistry on the field has been a strength for our team.”
Leckey also said in the preseason the greatest challenge for the Tigers would be “putting the ball in the net.” That challenge has certainly been taken care of in the Tigers’ first 13 games. They have gone 11-0-2 including 11-0-1 against SCC teams. They have outscored opponents 66-10, including eight shutouts.
Senior co-captain and defender Abi Barry believes the 3-0-1 start validated the hard work the team put into the preseason. But if the team lost some of those games she said the Tigers would still be successful with their team chemistry and work ethic.
“I am not overly surprised that we have outscored opponents by this much,” Barry said. “The whole team always has the right mindset and everyone has the same goals for our season, so our record is a good reflection and validation of our hard work.
“Whenever we are down in a game, I have never felt the team fall apart or get mad at each other. I constantly watch other teams drag each other down when they are losing. But we are able to keep our composure, focus and effort at an elite level.”
Balanced scoring is one of the team’s strengths, with 16 different goal scorers this season and four more players with assists.
“It’s exciting and fun to get so many players contributing,” Sue Leckey said.
The top scorers for the Tigers are Taylor Leckey who leads the team with 10 goals and 11assists. Other scorers include Erickson Richard (nine goals, eight assists), Sophie Schreck (four goals, 14 assists), Jacqui Sandor (eight goals, two assists) and Kathryn Donahey (seven goals, five assists).
“The whole league has lots of players stepping up and competing to play great hockey,” Leckey said. “Hand is always fortunate to have great numbers and a competitive spirit. Nora McCarthy is playing the best hockey she has played in her varsity career. Our captains Sophie Schreck and Abi Barry are great field leaders.
“Taylor Leckey in the midfield, Kenzie Larson on defense, and Erickson Richard on the offense end are hard-nosed players with genuine passion for the game. Our goalies are solid, athletic competitors, too. But, many others are playing fast, skilled field hockey. Starters and subs are competing every practice and every game to get better and contribute to our strength.”
While balanced scoring has been a strength, Leckey believes the key to success moving forward is the Tigers’ defense.
“If we let others get too many chances, then they can beat us,” Leckey said. “Sometimes it is hard to score in this game, so, you have to keep the other team from scoring, just in case you struggle to close the deal. We hope to be playing our best hockey in these next four weeks, to give us a chance to win games and maybe even championships.”
Senior co-captain and midfielder Sophie Schreck believes the 3-0-1 start set the tone for the team’s 2017 success so far.
“We fought hard in all of those games and those games have really shown us how much heart we have and how capable we really are as a team,” Schreck said. “I do believe there’s always room for improvement and we’re looking to get better every day. But our defense so far has been unbelievable. Our goalie Kylie (Kylie Gargiulo) works hard day in and day out and is always hungry for more. We have a wall in the back field, which has been crucial for our success.
“We have many strengths. But the one that has helped us the most is our team chemistry. We’re finally meshing as a team, which has helped immensely. We’re always trying to stay positive and try to overcome any obstacles together.”
Since 1998, Hand has appeared in five Class M championship games and won a title in 2014.
“We definitely have to take it one game at a time moving forward,” Sue Leckey said. “We can underestimate no opponent and have to make sure we keep putting the ball in the net, preferably before our opponents and more than our opponents. Our attitudes need to stay positive and team oriented for us to be our best.”