When creating the starting roster for the first game of the 2017 season, Pride field hockey head coach Melissa Sharpe inserted two freshmen defenders. She has stuck with them the whole way, and so far, it has worked out perfectly.
Tirzah McMillan and Morgan Bronk were thrown into the water immediately. In their first game of the season, the freshmen duo helped the Pride hold Eastern Connecticut to thirteen shots in which only one found the back of the net.
Sharpe knew what she had in McMillan and Bronk before the season started.
“All the way back to the recruiting process, we saw a lot of potential in both of them,” said Sharpe. “We knew what they could contribute and we knew they could be impact players from the start.”
The Pride started off the season 5-0. They held their opponent to a whopping five goals during that stretch and scored 23 goals themselves. McMillan and Bronk played just about every minute.
“We tested them out in the opening weekend right away,” said Sharpe. “Their leadership back there and consistency has been huge for us. They are going to improve but the things we are seeing them do now as freshmen is incredible.”
The two young defenders have worked perfectly together. McMillan stays back more on the defensive side but is very vocal. She yells out adjustments for her teammates to make and her presence is felt by everyone. Bronk on the other hand is more aggressive and plays near the forwards often.
When referring to playing with McMillan, Bronk said, “Honestly, it came naturally playing together. We have such a great connection on and off of the field. I think the big thing is communication. McMillan does an amazing job at staying loud and it helps me greatly.”
Unfortunately for the Pride, a tough schedule led to a five game losing streak in which the team seemed lost. Opponents outscored Springfield 20-7 during those games. It’s tough to be in the middle of a losing streak, especially as starting freshmen, but Sharpe praises their effort.
The Pride’s opponents dominated time of possession forcing the defenders to be highly active for 60 of the 70 minute games.
“They were getting too tired,” Sharpe stated. “We knew we couldn’t play this type of game and win.”
Bronk and McMillan didn’t seem phased by the losing streak. The duo stayed strong mentally, and after falling to a record of 5-5, the Pride got back into the win column with a 6-2 win over Bridgewater State. Bronk and McMillan kept the opposing shot total to a minimum and in the process Bronk tallied two assists.
Springfield followed up that game with a 5-0 shutout and hoped to keep the momentum going.
On the season, Bronk has a goal and a couple of assists while McMillan has yet to notch her first career point. This doesn’t matter to McMillan, as she knows her role and is already establishing herself as a leader on the team.
However, leadership usually doesn’t come naturally. It’s something that comes from the more experienced players and it has already rubbed off on Bronk and McMillan.
“The older players have taught me a lot so far,” McMillan said. “The main thing I have learned from them is to stay positive and have a good mindset from the beginning of the game to the end. We went through that streak of games where we lost five in a row and I knew I couldn’t get down on myself because that is something that the older players would never do. They have set a really good example for me and it has allowed me to become a better person, on and off the field.”
Bronk too has learned so much from the returning players. They teach her to stay calm on the field and if anything bad happens, they want her to forget it.
“Thinking negatively and looking back at a bad play only holds me down,” said Bronk. “Mistakes aren’t the end of the world but they can turn even worse with the wrong mindset.”
With seven games left and four of them being against conference opponents, McMillan and Bronk look to continue their outstanding play. This is a big stretch of games and if they can keep it up, the Pride hope to rise up the standings before heading into the NEWMAC tournament.
McMillan and Bronk will be key centerpieces of this team for a long time. They earned not only their coach’s trust, but the trust of their teammates on the field with them. The offense knows that if they give the ball up, McMillan and Bronk will have their backs and whoever starts in net know that she won’t see a lot of shots come their way because of how solid they are defensively. The stats sheet can’t do justice to how important these two players are and how helpful they will be in the long run.
“The future is going to be really bright for them,” said Sharpe. “I can’t wait to see what they bring to the table later on in their careers.”