Greenwich Academy Field Hockey Already in Postseason Form
By Paul Silverfarb
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just ask head coach Jamie Brower and the rest of the field hockey team.
Losing only two players from last year’s highly talented roster, the Gators are once again seeking to be the last team standing in both the Fairchester Athletic Association and the New England Prep School Athletic Conference.
“It’s basically the same group of kids that are back,” Brower said. “It’s a great thing for us, but it makes things different. You know your players and now it’s all about figuring out what the best combination looks like, compared to doing a ton of teaching with technique, culture and stuff like that. They all have been through it and know what to expect. We have some good, talented field hockey players that we are trying to find out where to play them all and get them on the same page.”
As the head coach puts it, the Gators are in quite the unique situation this season. When the season concluded last year, Greenwich Academy lost only one senior, Lilly Berger, to graduation. The lone other athlete to not return from last year’s team is goalie Hamilton Doster, who is focusing full time on ice hockey at GA.
Because the entire team is back from last year’s outstanding season, the pressure is on the Gators this season.
“This year has been more challenging because of the expectations,” Brower said. “The opposing teams have high expectations for us. Our kids have some high expectations. And the coaches have high expectations and that’s put a different flavor on the preseason. There’s so much that’s known, but there’s also some that’s unknown. We are wondering who is going to step up and if a certain player is going to do something different. It’s fun though being able to have a roster with so much talent at so many different levels and try and play with it and see the big picture.”
This year the Gators will be led by two familiar faces, as both Maya Walker and Grace Schulze will be returning captains. With Brower is thrilled with her team’s captains, she added that the entire senior class is a group of strong individuals, both on and off the field and is looking for them all to take a leadership role.
“Maya and Grace are two great captains and we couldn’t be happier to have them lead the team,” Brower said. “But we also have a strong supporting cast of four other seniors that have been on the team and have stepped up their game in the past two or three years. They are all true leaders on the field. The captains have a good group with them in their fellow seniors to support the team.”
Junior Kathryn Gregory, who started for Greenwich Academy during the team’s game against Deerfield Academy last year, will be back for the Gators and will get the full-time starting spot this season. While Brower loves what Gregory has done between the pipes, she also adores how great of a person she is.
“If you ask anybody about her, they will all say that she’s a great human being,” Brower said. “She’s just genuine, kind and a great teammate. She’s eager and wants to do well. She wants to get better and to learn about the position. I think her biggest hurdle will be getting over the nerves of playing in those big games.”
In front of Gregory and helping the ball stay clear of the net will be a plethora of talented defenders. Leading the way will be junior Ada Shaffer, who paced the defensive unit last year. In addition, juniors Alessia Packard, Olivia Jonokuchi, and sophomore Elizabeth Dale will pitch in. Junior Sophie Freedman will be another defender, but she could also see some valuable minutes at the midfield or attack.
“We have some depth back there that we haven’t had in the past,” Brower said. “Speed is one of our biggest strengths, so we are really trying to get to the point where we play a very fluid game and counterattack at speed.”
In the midfield, Greenwich Academy will have senior returner Evelyn Barringer and she can play either the left or right side of the midfield. Another midfield returner will be Katherine Glassmeyer, a senior. Jordan Pittianano, a sophomore, will also occupy the midfield position. Junior Julia Freedman will play in the midfield, but don’t be surprised to see her as a forward for a game or two. Another player that will see time in both the midfield and forward positions will be Schulze.
The attack will be GA’s biggest strength on the field, as all three are quite familiar faces. Schulze will be back and ready to add some goals at the attack. She will be joined by senior Elektra Rodger and junior Lila Murray, both key returners for Greenwich Academy. Coming off the bench to tally some key minutes will be sophomore Cameron Brower, senior Antonia Packard and junior Georgia Gallagher.
“We are moving a lot of people around and that’s great,” said the GA head coach. “We don’t have that one big hitter. We have some really valid hitting options. The team did such a great job last year. We need to get ourselves to a place where we can be fluid and have multiple options. We need to figure out how to spread out the wealth and not be predictable, so that way people don’t know where the scoring is going to come from.”
With nearly the entire roster back from last year’s team, Brower knows the pressure will be on her team to perform at a high level.
“We’re in a position where a lot of times there is a target on our backs and people do bring their best games. You can’t look at the schedule and see what our record has been against a certain team over the last 10 years. You do that and you’ll find yourself down by a goal or two. What we are trying to do is remove a little of that pressure by focusing on the smaller pieces of the game. If we do that well enough, then you hope that the outcome will take care of itself.”
In addition to getting the team to fire on all cylinders from the start of the season, Brower has the hard task of making sure as many players as possible get some quality time on the field.
“We have so many kids that can play field hockey at a high level,” Brower said. “A lot of kids have put in a ton of time improving their game and they want to play. They aren’t just happy to be here. Then you have kids that are already on the field that want to play more. It’s such a great problem to have. You want to keep people happy, but not at the expense of what you think is best for the team. It’s a motto that I am trying to hammer home to them. I understand what everybody wants, but my decisions are going to be based on what’s best for the team. And that might mean kids don’t get what they want. They are smart and hard-working and know how to take that frustration and turn it into something positive and useful.”
And obviously, with all that talent and experience on the roster this season, the Greenwich Academy field hockey team is expected to be one of the top teams in both the FAA and the NEPSAC.
“On paper we have one of the best teams around,” Brower said. “I am trying to remind them that we all work hard because we want to win championships and beat everybody. We’re all on the same page there. Now we have to decide each day how we are going to get ourselves a step closer to doing that. If we focus on the process more than the outcome, we will play better.”