Congratulations on your NEPSAC championship title! This is an incredible achievement for your team. Can you tell us about the tournament?
Going into the quarterfinals our record was 12-5. We were first in the Lakes Region—losing only to Kimball Union Academy early in the season—and our Class C record was 10-1.
In the first game of the tournament, we played Hamden Hall at Cushing Academy; we lost to Cushing on the same field just a week before. We were curious about Hamden Hall but we were also nervous about playing on Cushing’s field, which is much slower than our home turf. It snowed on the Monday before the game, making it really hard to move the ball during practice, so it was great training for us in preparation for the game against Hamden Hall on the Cushing field. At the start of the game, we came out really strong, setting the tone and pace of play; Olivia Branch ’20 even had a hat-trick (three goals) in the first twenty minutes. We ended that game 8-0 and everyone except for our back-up goalie played.
In the semi-finals we faced Canterbury School, after they knocked New Hampton School, the #3 seed, out of the tournament in the quarterfinals. While we beat New Hampton twice in the regular season, they were close games, and we anticipated it would be a tough battle. We came out very strong and connected passes beautifully up the field, the defense was composed, and we scored early several times. Ultimately, every player on the team, including our back-up goalie, was able to support the team’s 7-1 victory.
The final game against Ethel Walker was a bit of a homecoming for me; it’s where I coached my first field hockey team (JV). We also had plenty of fans supporting us. In addition to a solid group of parents, Holderness School’s head coach from last year, Colleen Finnerty, was there, along with two of last year’s players, Nicole Johnson ’17 and Guiliana Kevlin ’17. Ethel Walker came out really strong, earning a corner in the first five minutes. Then after about 10 minutes of battling them in our defensive end, we had a time-out, took a deep breath, and went out and started to adjust our style of play to evade their excellent block tackles. We put many shots on goal for the rest of the first half; the Walkers had a few opportunities as well, but the half ended 0-0. Early in the second half, we had many opportunities, but after a series of defensive corners, the Walkers netted the first goal of the game. We answered that goal about 10 minutes later. With six minutes left in the game, we took the lead. Despite the Walkers peppering our goalie, Kiely Smiga-McManus ’18, with shots in the last five minutes, we were able to hold the lead.
What were the team’s goals for the season? Did any of you have your sights set on winning the tournament?
At the beginning of the season, we weren’t even thinking about the tournament. Our team goal was to build confidence. In field hockey, the whistle is always blowing, which means someone is always making a mistake. If you let these mistakes get to you, it can be paralyzing. We all—the girls included—worked really hard this season to build the girls’ confidence so that even when they made mistakes they could keep going.
This was your first year as the head coach. What did you do differently to build this team?
I inherited a really good framework of tradition that supports team building. The girls have a notebook that has been written in before every game since 1994, and they have special cheers that build them up before games.
Strangely enough, I think it also helped that out of the 20 games we played this year, only five were at home. We had a lot of time on the road to bond as a team. In fact, several of the girls have played together since middle school. They love each other and know each other really well.
When did you begin to think the team might win the tournament?
When someone asked me during the first week of school what I thought of the team, I remember saying that they were a talented group. But it wasn’t until November when we played our final game of the regular season against Proctor that the girls switched from responding to their opponents’ style of play to actually setting the tone of the game. I knew they were a talented group, but I didn’t know if they could stop playing as individuals.
But even after that Proctor game, we just took it one game at a time. It wasn’t until the last minutes of the final game that I looked at Coach <Chrissy> Lushefski and admitted to her, “We might just win this.”
One of my first years at Holderness, the girls’ field hockey team was undefeated and four of the girls considered field hockey their primary sport. They won NEPSACs that year, and that’s what I thought a winning team looked like. Our team, in contrast, is filled with hockey players and skiers. Five of the girls headed directly to Colorado after the tournament to begin training for skiing; another four girls are hockey players and had to leave as soon as the award ceremony was over to attend a hockey tournament in Manchester, NH. Based on my historical perspective, these girls didn’t look like a championship team, but they came together and turned their diverse training into a strength. They definitely displayed the benefits of the multi-sport athlete model! (Click here to read more about Holderness School’s multi-sport philosophy)
Can you talk a little about the history of the field hockey program?
It’s always been a strong program. In the past three decades the team has won five NEPSAC titles—in 1998, 2003, 2006, 2013, and then again this year. They may very well be the most decorated team on campus.
NOTE TO ALUMNI: Our records show that the Holderness tradition of field hockey began in 1979, shortly after the school became co-educational. To honor our NEPSAC champs, we’d like to collect personal memories about field hockey at Holderness through the years. Any thinking you would like to share about the first time Holderness field hockey went to NEPSACs or winning the first title, or second, or any traditions and memories you hold dear, we’d appreciate you sharing them with us. Please send them to Associate Director of Communications and Marketing Emily Magnus at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Any hopes for next year?
It’s exciting to think about next year. There are only five seniors on the team, so we will have a strong group of veterans returning next year. We will see what next year brings!