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Holliston Field Hockey Team Is Rebuilding & Adjusting

Oct 27, 2020 09:37AM ● By Ken Hamwayy

If the Holliston field hockey team hopes to be successful this fall, it’ll have to quickly rebuild and adjust.

Coach Alyssa Healey, who’s led the Panthers to five tourney appearances in six years, lost 10 seniors from last year’s squad that finished with a 14-5-1 overall record and advanced to the Sectional semifinals for the second straight time. The 31-year-old Healey, however, welcomes the rebuilding challenge, because she’s passionate about field hockey and she’s delighted the sport is on Holliston’s athletic menu this fall.

The Covid-19 pandemic eliminated all high school sports last spring and put fall sports in doubt during the summer. 

“We’re a young team, but we’ll do the best we can to put the pieces of the puzzle together,’’ Healey said. “We have only two seniors but lots of underclassmen — 13 juniors, six sophomores and 10 freshmen. But, they have some experience.’’

Besides rebuilding, the Panthers must adjust to modifications made to the sport.

The changes implemented because of the coronavirus include a seven-on-seven lineup instead of playing 11-against-11. Masks must be worn during competition and penalty corners are out. A maximum roster is 20 players, there’s no spectators (Tri Valley League rule), and reserves no longer have a bench. They’ll stay five yards apart on the sidelines.

“I’m not a fan of the seven-on-seven format,’’ Healey said, “but I’m glad we’re competing. It puts a huge demand on the players. There’ll be more substitutions, and coaches have to be aware that depth matters. Seven-on-seven creates more of a passing game than a possession game. Our kids are adjusting well to masks, although they make it harder to breathe. Although no spectators will be allowed, all our home games will be streamed on local cable TV.’’

The elimination of penalty corners could lower scores. Penalty corners are set offensive plays inside the opposing team’s box that can lead to a goal. Infractions that would result in a penalty corner now result in a free hit from 25 yards out. On those free hits, players have to stand at least five feet away from each other.

“No penalty corners is a huge disadvantage for offenses,’’ Healey said. “There’ll be less scoring. Most scoring likely will come on breakaways, and that’ll put more pressure on goaltenders.’’

In spite of all the rule changes and the need to rebuild, the Panthers have some definite strengths. “Our core group is coachable and we’ve got good team chemistry,’’ Healey said. “Our skills are improving, we’re athletic and the girls have a good field hockey IQ. Our depth is also a strongpoint because only seven players will be on the field.’’ 

The leaders are junior captains — midfielder Peyton Hastings and fullback Jordyn Kuharich.  

“They’re both two-year veterans,’’ said Healey, who previously was Dover-Sherborn’s jayvee coach and varsity assistant. “Peyton is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached. She’s athletic, instinctive, a solid passer and very good in transition. She leads by example. Jordyn leads by being communicative. She’s vocal and she knows her role. Her speed, poise and finesse are great assets.’’

Emily Waldman emerged as a sophomore last year and was a prime contributor on defense. “Emily was a pleasant surprise,’’ Healey said. “She works hard in practice, tackles effectively and is a poised player.’’

Three other girls who’ll be counted on are junior forwards — Stephanie Farrell and twin-sisters Abby and Bridget Glynn.

“Stephanie is a three-year veteran who started as a sophomore,’’ Healey said. “She plays low to the ground and is a good passer who gets assists. I’m looking for her to be more offensive-minded. Last year was Abby’s first season, but she eventually became a starter. She’s athletic, has good stick skills, marks our opponents’ top player, and can score. Bridget also was a first-year player as a sophomore and became a starter. She’s an instinctive athlete who’s aggressive up front and good in transition.’’

Healey expects junior midfielder Lily Sawyer to keep improving. “She’s excellent in transition and is an effective passer,’’ Healey emphasized.

Jenna Shutt, a first-year senior player, will handle the goaltending chores. She’s no stranger to the position, having started as Holliston’s goalie in ice hockey and lacrosse. “The principles are similar,’’ Healey said. “She’s tenacious, capable on technique, a strong competitor and willing to learn.’’

Five juniors — defenders Jenna Canal and Bridget Daigneault, forward Ellie Currie, and midfielders Cara Chipman and Adrianna Boudreau — will be key contributors. 

Healey’s players not only have to adjust to rule changes, but they also have to deal with a different kind of schedule and different opponents. Only nine games are on the schedule and they’ll play only one TVL Large Division team (Hopkinton). The rest of the opponents are Ashland, Bellingham and Medway. Those schools keep Holliston’s travel at a minimum.

“We’ll play everyone twice, except Hopkinton,’’ Healey said. “We’ll face them three times. All games will be played on Saturday and Sunday and we’ll face the same team, home and away on weekends. Playing back-to back puts an emphasis on stamina and conditioning. There’ll be no Sectional or State tourney and no TVL champion will be crowned. Nevertheless, we’re just glad to have the opportunity to compete.’’

Since there are no playoffs, Healey’s goals lean towards player development. “We’ll strive to get our younger players more minutes,’’ she emphasized. “We want all newcomers to learn technical skills, and we want girls who’ll be in leadership roles to enhance their leadership qualities.’’

Healey is acutely aware that the health and safety of everyone is the No. 1 priority, but she and her players appreciate having a season in spite of the modifications. Here’s how her captains view 2020:

“Even though this season looks very different, I’m grateful we can compete,’’ Hastings said. “Getting ready for this season has been challenging with all of the Covid-19 guidelines. We’re playing seven-on-seven on a full field rather than the traditional 11-on-11. During the preseason, we not only worked on improving our skills, but we also worked on conditioning while wearing a mask. I’m grateful for this season, because we have strong players who put a lot of work into the preseason.’’

“Due to Covid-19 restrictions and the delay of our fall season we were able to hold additional captains’ practices, where we bonded and were able to get a head start on conditioning,’’ Kuharich said. “Pre-season conditioning has really helped our team. I’m excited to be competing and practicing. The pandemic has caused changes to our schedules and routines, but it’s nice to have normalcy by playing field hockey. It’s made me more appreciative of the sport.’’