Entering the field hockey season, Cheshire coach Eileen Wildermann was in the uncharacteristic position of losing 17 players from 2018 with only three returning players.
She liked the idea of entering the season for the first time “under the radar” in what would typically be a rebuilding season for most teams.
It was a rough start with a 1-3 record in the first four games. But over the last four games, the Rams have turned the season around and flipped the switch, going 3-1 for a 4-4 record entering Tuesday night’s game at Simsbury.
“I don’t think I would call it a turnaround at all,” Wildermann said. “There are many factors involved including strength of schedule. We had a very tough schedule right out of the gate. We are growing, slowly. Each day we get a little bit better. I think it is a matter of new players gaining more experience, confidence, and also players learning to trust one another.”
In the four wins that the Rams have, three of them have been shutouts for new starting goalie Ava Pulisciano, one of nine new starters for Wildermann. Defenders, including returning starting defender Olivia Salamone, have also been a key ingredient to the recent success.
“Ava has been instrumental in goal, but even more so in her leadership,” Wildermann said. “She is such a positive person and is so committed to building people up with her positive encouragement. She keeps everyone connected to one another, which is so important in developing a completely new team. Olivia returns the most experience to the team.
“She has sound field hockey skills and a good knowledge of the game, which has helped those around her learn more about the game. Olivia is surrounded by solid defenders. Behind her, Danielle Floyd has been a staunch sweeper, and to her sides are Megan Crowley and Taylor Warburton, who have been stingy on defense. The defense still has a bit to learn, but they are solid.”
Scoring and playmaking have been another plus for the Rams as the season has gone on.
“Our top scorer is Raegan Bailey, who has been consistently strong, along with Kiley Jackson and Sophia Vagts,” Wildermann said. “They have combined for 15 of our goals and seven of our assists this season. Our midfielders (Megan Daly, Tarana Eldredge, Lauren Houle) have been feeding great passes to them.
“The funny thing is, if you look at this season on paper, it is our most challenging season. But I think the positive attitude the team has makes it one of the least challenging teams I have ever coached. Watching them grow each game is incredibly rewarding as a coach. I often remind teams that the main purpose of playing high school sports is to have fun. But this team seems to understand that, to play for the fun of it more than anything. They are not discouraged by losses, and they really do grow from them.”
Wildermann stresses that the Rams have more work to do to be competitive in the postseason.
“I would definitely not call our recent success momentum,” Wildermann said. “We have better skills, more knowledge of the game, and more chemistry. We also have incredibly tough competition left in the (regular) season.
“I want the team to keep pushing forward, no matter the outcome of the games. Keep learning. Keep improving. The worst thing we can do is become stagnant, regardless of wins or losses. This is a team with youth and potential which can be a dangerous combination for opponents once we gain more experience.”
DARIEN HAVING FUN, TOO
If you have followed the Darien field hockey team in recent years, coach Mo Minicus usually mentions the word fun when she talks about her team.
Making sure her players are having fun is one of the many aspects of Minicus’ successful coaching career. Then again, winning more than losing certainly contributes to having fun.
The Blue Wave are certainly having fun midway in their regular season, coming off a 7-2 come-from-behind win over Southern Connecticut Conference power Hand on Saturday. The Blue Wave entered Tuesday’s game with Danbury with an 8-0 record, including a 6-0 record against FCIAC teams. Through eight games, Darien has outscored opponents 42-4 and posted five shutouts.
“The game against Hand starts the toughest stretch of our season,” said Darien coach Mo Minicus, who earned her 300th career win in a season-opening win over Ridgefield. She has 307 wins at this point. “We love playing another good team that we’re not going to see in the state tournament (CIAC Class L). The competitive nature and challenge of those games makes it fun and helps you improve as a team.
“The second half of our season, especially the last third of the season, is challenging. We take it one game at a time. Our girls have been working hard, our passing is improving and we’ll be prepared for the postseason.”
Molly Hellman, who had three goals in the win over Hand, is among the leading scorers on the team. Other contributors on offense include Evelyn Hidy, Molly McGuckin, Brinsley Rushe and Catherine Duggan. Tala Garcia leads the on-field defense and talented goalies Monisha Akula and Catherine Vogt both have starts this season.