It has been an interesting season for Old Saybrook.
When coach Mandy Tuthill decided to step down after the third game of the season due to personal reasons, the Rams were 1-2 and without a head coach.
Former Old Saybrook player Nancy Gatta stepped up. She was hired as the new Rams coach on Sept. 21 and the Rams, 1-3 when Gatta took over, have been rolling. Since Gatta was hired, the Rams have gone 6-1-1 and improved to 7-4-1 overall (not including Tuesday’s game at Haddam-Killingworth).
“When I heard that the coach had stepped down and the team was without a varsity coach I stepped up,” said Gatta, a former field hockey coach at Valley Regional and Mercy. “(Old Saybrook) athletic director Mike Cunningham worked with me to get me all the updated certifications to get me in the position as quickly as we could.
“And it worked out that the JV coach was able to step up for the week in the middle of the other coach stepping down and me taking over.”
The day Gatta was hired the Rams defeated Haddam-Killingworth 7-1.
“I have really been trying to instill in them the pride I felt as a player for Old Saybrook,” Gatta said. “I’m trying to make them believe in themselves and their abilities as players and teammates. We have been working hard these last three weeks on the fundamentals of the game, game theory, positioning and plain old hard work.
“It has paid off. We have won five in a row, including beating Shoreline Conference teams they had previously lost to in those first four games (3-2 win over North Branford Oct. 2, and 2-0 win over Valley Regional on Oct. 9).”
Gatta came to the program with extensive field hockey experience.
“I played for legendary field hockey coach Lorraine Splain in the late 1980’s when we had much success in the Old Saybrook field hockey program,” Gatta said. “I won a Shoreline Conference and state title ( Class S) in my junior and senior year with Old Saybrook (1987 and 1988).
I coached at a couple of different schools after playing hockey in college (UMASS-Amherst and then transferring to SCSU). For the last 14 years (and currently) I have been a field hockey official.”
Senior midfielder and captain Mandy Beck has been among the top players for the Rams. Entering this week she was the leading scorer in the Shoreline Conference with 10 goals and nine assists.
“Mandy Beck has really stepped up these last three weeks,” Gatta said. “She scored six goals and had an assist in one of our big weeks with wins over North Branford and East Lyme, and scored the lone goal in a 2-1 loss to previously undefeated Westbrook.”
Another contributor to the team’s success includes sophomore forward Taylor Stone. Gatta said Stone has come off the bench, started in some key games and has scored five goals, including both goals in the 2-0 win over Valley Regional.
Among the top forwards are sophomore Kayla Holt (six goals, three assists) and junior Leah Wysocki (four goals, two assists). Another top midifielder is junior Izzy Sigersmith, and on defense senior co-captain back Ana Hester has stepped up.
Junior goalie Wendy Bowden has been another key player on defense. Entering Tuesday’s game she had 114 saves against the eight teams the Rams have played since Gatta took over, with two shutouts.
“We would not be where we are now without the incredible play of our goalie,” Gatta said. “We work hard on her in practice to help her get ready for what she could see in games. She comes to each practice and game ready to work.
“Our team strength comes from each other. Each player on the team really can make an impact, there is not just one person who does it all. We have, as a team, come together after their upheaval at the early part of the season. They are eager to learn from me and to put into place the things they are learning in practices. These girls are hard workers and they do not stop until the final whistle.”
Gatta is looking forward to the post season.
“I am pushing them to see their capabilities and then work even harder to reach limits they did not know they had,” Gatta said. “With the postseason fast approaching, I hope they all stay healthy and on track to play the best hockey they can. I believe in them, and they are now believers too.”
As the season winds down, one of the key Shoreline Conference matchups take place Wednesday when North Branford (8-2-0-1) hosts Westbrook (9-1-1) at 6 p.m. It’s a rematch of an earlier season game when the Knights defeated the Thunderbirds 3-0.
Since a loss to Old Saybrook the Thunderbirds have won three in a row and outscored opponents 9-0. One of the Thunderbirds top players is forward Amy Raucci, who led North Branford to the Class S title last season. She was the 2017 Shoreline Conference Player of the Year and a 2017 Register All-Area selection.
The Knights have talent at every position led by forward Avery Bauman. She is one of the top scorers in the Shoreline Conference and was an All-Shoreline Conference and All-State selection last season. Defense has been another strength with nine shutouts this season, including a scoreless tie with Valley Regional.
STAPLES STILL NO. 1
Staples continues to hold onto the top spot in the Coaches Top 10 Poll but unbeaten Cheshire moves from No. 3 to No. 2. . Darien moves from No. 6 to No. 3.
Staples continues to roll at 13-0 with nine shutouts. Cheshire improved to 12-0 on Monday with a 7-0 win over North Haven and has 11 shutouts. Darien is 11-2-1 with eight shutouts.