CHATHAM, NJ - Ever since Kaitlin Leyden took over as the Chatham field hockey coach three years ago, the mantra has been "passing and communication."
Signs that her message has gotten through to the 2017 Lady Cougars came last Friday when they posted a 4-0 scrimmage win at Mountain Lakes.
"It's not stick-to-stick passing by the book anymore," Leyden said. "They have the confidence that they can pass into space and know that someone is going to be there. You can see them getting more comfortable with each other and that allows them to have a little more fun with it. They showed that confidence against Mountain Lakes."
Chatham has senior leadership throughout its lineup, with five captains: forward Amrita Sooklal, midfielders Noelle Bessette and Charlotte Buckman, defender Kierra Oare and goalie Abby Walrond.
The team has gotten to know each other better off the field in preparation for the 2017 campaign, which begins Thursday, Sept. 7 at Morristown. Chatham finished 11-9-1 last season.
"We've done a lot of team bonding, which makes it a lot easier to connect on the field," Bessette said.
Sooklal, known for her reverse chip shot, is the top returning scorer, having notched seven goals and three assists. Bessette, who is headed to Rutgers, produced five goals and five assists. Those two will be joined by another player known for her stick skills, rising sophomore Gabby Cutlip.
"She's a defender and a middie and she has amazing stick skills and has a great game sense," Leyden said. "I think she's going to be a great addition. The girls are hyped to have her on the team. She's very humble about her ability."
Chatham's other key returners include junior forward Annie Leverich and junior forward/midfieder Lauren Mumby. Junior forward Ava Healy also is expected to be a factor on offense.
The strong senior class includes defenders Abigail Lowe, Eliza Nichols and Grace Costanzo; midfielder Charo Fernandez and forward Anna Pompeo.
The junior class features goalies Sarah McCabe and Skylar Redgate; defenders Marissa Sullivan, Liza Eigen, Sarah Goodheart and Katie D'Addezio, and midfielder Julia Mueller.
"We've gotten to know coach more and she's helped us improve in a lot of different ways," Sooklal. "We keep moving forward and getting better and better."