Field hockey is Ashley Halpern’s passion, and she was convinced this season would result in Holliston finally qualifying for a tournament berth after being shut out of the playoffs for the last seven years.
The Panthers, who are 4-3-5 after 12 games, have a chance at a playoff berth, but unfortunately for Halpern, there won’t be any opportunity for her to compete in post-season games. Halpern suffered a fractured jaw against Westwood in the team’s eighth game, and she’ll need six months to recover.
The 5-foot-4 center back is a senior co-captain whose defensive prowess has been a major factor in Holliston’s improvement.
“I’m very disappointed and sad I can’t be on the field,’’ Halpern said. “If the girls get to the tourney, I’ll be so proud of them. I’ll help keep them focused on doing their best. I might not be able to lead on the field but I believe that what happened to me will give the girls another reason to work 120 percent.’’
Kate Fuoco, the Holliston coach, called Halpern’s loss “a huge hit.’’
“We’re going to miss Ashley’s talent, energy, knowledge, and experience,’’ Fuoco said. “She’s been such a vocal leader and such a superb role model for the younger players. We’ll just have to unite and we’ll dedicate the rest of our season to her.’’
A center back is one of the last lines of protection a goalie has and that’s an area where Halpern excelled. She could drive the ball out of the Panthers’ offensive zone and she was an adept tackler.
“A back needs to be patient and wait for a mistake to occur,’’ Halpern said before her injury. “Staying in control always helps as well as maintaining your position and communicating. Being disciplined with technique and having good field awareness also are keys to being effective.’’
Halpern, who moved to Holliston from Atlanta when she was nine, is optimistic the Panthers will have a date in the post-season. She so much wanted to be a part of changing Holliston’s image in the always-competitive Tri Valley League.
“I’ve been on the varsity for four years and have never been on a team that played over .500,’’ she said. “I’ve been disappointed we’ve fallen short the last three years. But, we now go into games expecting to win. Before I got hurt, I strived to improve my consistency and composure.’’
Other key contributors who’ll step up, according to Halpern, are seniors Emma Durkee, the other captain who plays forward, right back Maddy Murphy and midfielder Emily Hagan. Halpern also rates her coach in superlative terms.
“Actually, everyone on the squad has been solid and you have to admire all of them,’’ Halpern said. “Emma, however, has an eye for the net and she’s very skilled. Maddy can break up plays and Emily is tenacious in midfield. Coach Fuoco has lots of field hockey smarts. She’s a great motivator who encourages and inspires players.’’
Halpern, who has a black belt in karate and plays field hockey at the club level, has had a pair of memorable games in her career. One came last year and the other came against Bellingham in September.
“Against Medway last year on Senior Night, I felt that’s when I arrived on defense,’’ she said. “We were happy to win for our seniors. The Bellingham game was a thrill because we not only won, but I also scored. It was my only goal in four years.’’
An honor student, Halpern hopes to attend college in the mid-South where she’d like to major in media communications. She won’t be trying out as a walk-on in field hockey but she intends to continue competing at the club level.
A high-octane leader, Halpern takes her captain’s role seriously.
“Being a captain is an awesome opportunity to lead,’’ Halpern said. “I’ll be on the sidelines cheering our squad on to the playoffs. I’m truly disappointed I can’t be playing, but my teammates know I’ll be encouraging and supporting them.’’
Ashley Halpern is the real deal and, although her absence hurts, Holliston’s field hockey team knows it’s competing for a true champion on the sidelines.