CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – It was a dream season for John Jay’s field hockey team in 2018.
The Indians featured a talented, experienced team and reached the Section 1 Class B championship game, where they fell to defending state champion Lakeland.
With just one starter returning, the Indians have holes to fill all over the field this season. When asked if it’s a rebuilding year, John Jay coach Debbi Walsh said she wants to remain optimistic.
“I’m trying to be positive and realistic,” Walsh said. “When you lose 11 girls and they all had playing time, it’s hard. I asked these girls to set goals and their goal is to get to the section final. I tell them let’s go one game at a time and build off of each game. Hopefully, if we get to playoffs and I feel we’re at our peak season point, then anything can happen. I’d love to get to the semis and see where it goes from there.”
John Jay has three senior captains: midfielders Ella Blum, Melina O’Connor and Sydney Phillips.
“They’re very vocal leaders,” Walsh said. “Last year we had a fabulous group of leaders. They really bought into becoming a team off the field and on the field. We end in November and they’ve had team dinners in June. That tells you how tight they are. They brought that knowledge of what it takes to be a team off the field and how important that is, to here. They’re very vocal, they bring tons of energy and they find ways to get back together whether it be watching a movie, playing a game, getting ice cream or something else. That’s huge.”
Walsh estimated that the graduated Rosie Ceisler, Cara O’Reilly and Tyman Cronin scored about 90 percent of the team’s goals last season. All three of them were named All-State. Naturally, some new players will need to step up and fill that scoring void.
“We depended on a few girls for too much last year,” Walsh admitted. “Preseason, it’s really been about working on real fundamentals. The drives, the stops and the communication. Those three things we need to build up if we want to compete.”
Walsh said that Blum has “matured a lot and really fine-tuned her stick skills.” She’s one player who the coach thinks will find the back of the net.
Kate Mercer, a sophomore, is another player who will be looked toward to score.
“Kate was a middie last year and I’m looking to play her on the forward line,” Walsh said. “She’s really focused on her game and is very disciplined. She can do good things when she’s up against a goalie.”
Two freshmen who Walsh called up to varsity are Mia Puccio and Annabel Brennan. She said both are athletically gifted.
“Mia has quick abilities and she’s a fast runner,” Walsh said. “She knows how to release the ball quickly. I’m going to put her up there (at forward). Annabel will find playing time. I’m still trying to figure it out but she could end up as a middie or spend some time on the forward line. But I don’t bring ninth-graders up if they’re going to be on the bench. They’re going to see some playing time.”
O’Connor, who was a starter last year, is the team’s center midfielder. “She’s great at pushing the ball up and doing a lot of assisting,” the coach said.
Another midfielder who should contribute is junior Morgan Burhance.
“Morgan has come to preseason extremely focused,” Walsh said. “She’s gotten stronger as an athlete and she’s a smarter player so far. I’ve really been impressed the last 10 days with her.”
Zoe Eliades, a sophomore midfielder, will miss most of the season due to injury. She had surgery on one of her wrists after enduring multiple tears. “That is a big loss,” Walsh said. “She plays year-round.”
The defense will be young for the Indians after graduating all of their starters. Players who should contribute on defense include: senior Isabella Giner, senior Mackenzie Spieler and junior Ashley Schafer.
“That’s really been my focus,” Walsh said of figuring out the defense. “Isabella and Mackenzie didn’t get much playing time because I had seniors in there but they learned a lot when they got in. I’m definitely counting on them to step up. Ashley was used last year as a middie but because she’s a lacrosse player she really sees the field well. I’m looking at using her as a center back, which is to me a real pivotal position. I’m excited to put someone young there and see what they can give me.”
Ashleigh Brennan, a senior goaltender, is a returner and split time in net last season. Junior Samantha Spieler is also fighting for playing time in the goal.
“Right now, both of them could play at any minute for me and I’d be very comfortable,” Walsh said. “I feel very good about where my goalies are right now and what we can do with that.”
John Jay opens the season when it travels to Pearl River for a 4:15 p.m. game on Friday, Sept. 6.
“Across the board, every girl who is on this team wants to be on this team,” Walsh said. “They’ve all demonstrated so far that they want the playing time. They’re putting the effort in. I’m just optimistic that we just keep growing and have a good season. Maybe we’ll surprise a few people.”