WILTON—Anybody who knows anything about field hockey will tell you it was, initially, a head-scratching move.
The two new co-head coaches of the highly successful Wilton High program moved returning senior Jessica Hendry from defense to offense before the 2017 season started.
Now, in the hindsight of a completed regular season and part of the postseason, it has turned out to be the best field hockey move since the elimination of the offside rule more than two decades ago.
Hendry – a three-year starter on defense for Wilton – broke a school record for goals in a season during last week’s FCIAC quarterfinal game against Staples.
She added another goal and two assists in Monday’s 3-2 overtime win over Greenwich, which puts the defending league champion Warriors back in the FCIAC championship game.
Heading into Thursday’s title-game showdown against rival Darien, Hendry has 26 goals and nine assist – the former of which is two better than Amy Drummond’s former school record of 24 set in 2009.
“When we came in, we didn’t want to know anything about anybody,” said Toniann Cortina, who was named co-head coach of the squad along with Elizabeth Pisko in August. “We just saw her play and it was obvious to us.”
The move was met with a lot of trepidation from Hendry, however.
Hendry is the third of three sisters who have played for the Wilton program, and helped lead the Warriors to multiple state championships.
Madison Hendry was a high-scoring midfielder, who chased Drummond’s record, but fell just short with season totals of 19 and 21 goals.
Amanda Hendry was a two-year starter at goaltender, who took her talents to the University of North Carolina.
And Jessica Hendry was the rock on defense, stepping in as a freshman and earning her spot on the backline.
A move up the field?
She wanted nothing to do with it.
“I was totally against the idea at first,” she admitted. “I didn’t want to do it.”
Hendry and her parents met with the coaching staff and athletic director Chris McDougal to discuss the pending move.
They listened to the coaches explain their position and, in the end, they accepted their fate.
Instead of pouting and becoming a cancer on the team, Hendry went out on the field and embraced the change.
“I want to do whatever I can to help the team,” Hendry said. “I had just always played defense.”
In the season-opening game, Wilton lost to Fairfield Ludlowe by a 2-1 score.
Ludlowe hadn’t scored on Wilton since 2010 and, according to CIAC records, hadn’t beaten the Warriors in at least 11 seasons.
Following the controversial resignation of longtime coach Deirdre Hynes-Ormond the prior spring, it was the debut nobody wanted.
Shutout victories over New Canaan and Ridgefield soon followed. Slowly, but surely the Warriors and their new coaches were on the same page.
“We have a saying this season – ‘Both’ – because we want to win both FCIACs and States,” Hendry said. “The coaches have really bought into that and allowed us to pursue that, as well.”
And Hendry started finding her place on the field, as well.
She didn’t score in Wilton’s first two games, but by the end of September she was finding the cage on a regular basis.
She scored twice in a 7-0 win over Westhill and four times in a 8-0 win over St. Joseph.
Slowly, Hendry started closing in on the statistics her older sister had put up.
When she finally surpassed her older sister’s stats, it was a nice phone call to make.
“It was fun,” Hendry said with a laugh, “but she’s always supported me. She was happy for me.”
Hendry – like her sister and like Drummond before that – wears No. 18.
So while it seemed unlikely, she would ever catch such a record, it also seemed predestined.
The move from defense to offense preceding a second straight trip to the FCIAC championship game?
Sounds like destiny – and the new Wilton coaching staff got it right.