The journey back to the top: Blend of veteran spirit and young knowledge launches Springfield College field hockey into contention

Vin Gallo
@VinGallo731

After registering a combined record of 28-28 between 2014 and 2016, the 2017 Springfield College field hockey team is riding a youth movement in efforts to reclaim supremacy in the NEWMAC. It has been almost a decade (2008) since the Pride earned a conference crown. However, Springfield has been waiting patiently for the perfect mixture of seniors and underclassmen talent to come together and establish consistent winning ways. The Pride hopes that this is the season in which such success is fulfilled.

Springfield currently holds a record of 4-0 and is off to its best start since 2007. The winning streak has taken head coach Melissa Sharpe back to the days when the team was the conference champion for five straight seasons (2004-2008). Following three years of .500 play, the Pride’s roster is enforced with three starting freshmen (eight total), and four seniors. Sharpe is impressed with the leadership of the upperclassmen and is optimistic about her first year players.

“Our veteran players are stepping it up in key positions where we need them, especially in the midfield area,” she said. “The experience that we’ve had with the upperclassmen and the seniors’ desire to win their senior year – you combine that with the talented players we’ve brought in [and] you’re going to win games.”

The Pride’s group of four year players consists of forwards Maggie Kennedy and Paige Laperle, as well as midfielders Ann Mahoney and Dani Sweet. Kennedy is entering her third year as a starting forward and has turned in two straight seasons of registering 33 points and 13 goals. Laperle, after starting eight games in three years, has tallied seven points in four games started. Mahoney is playing out her third year as a starting defensive midfielder while Sweet, who has registered 12 points in four contests, looks to bounce back after missing the 2016 season with a torn ACL.

Kennedy believes that the four seniors have a positive connection that can resonate throughout the team.

“Coach [told us] to make sure everyone pushes through this season,” she said. “I think our four [individual] attitudes are really bouncing off of our teammates. The connection that the four of us have really has a good impact on the rest of the team.”

Kennedy acknowledged a notable improvement in the team has been its ability to back up the defense with consistent scoring. So far, Springfield has netted 17 goals.

“The biggest difference is that we’ve been putting away a lot more goals than last year,” said Kennedy. “And it’s coming from everyone, not just the forwards. We’ve had Sweet put up six goals alone already, so we’ve definitely been scoring.”

Defensively, the Pride’s defense has stood tall – holding opponents to an average of one goal per game in the season’s early stages. In addition to the efforts of junior goalkeeper Emmalie Drake (18 saves, four goals allowed, one shutout), the unit has been benefitting from the early contributions of freshmen Morgan Bronk and Tirzah McMillan. Freshman Taylor Low has also started three tilts for the offense.     

Sharpe said the on-field decision making of the three starting first years has done wonders towards the entire team’s success.

“Sometimes players get to the college level and there’s different systems of play, possibly different positions [to learn],” she said. “There’s always a transition period, but from the opening game, these [three] have jumped right in and haven’t looked back.”

The combination of skill and positive spirit has excited Sharpe, who believes the team is capable of not only qualifying for NEWMACs, but also of making a November run.

“When you watch all of them play, you can’t tell who’s who,” she said. “You know you have a solid team when you look at them on the field and they all seem experienced. They’ve meshed together so well. The chemistry we’ve had on the field is impressive, especially when we’ve only had four games.”

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