By BOB YORK
Big Green girls cross country coach Dennis Cullinane isn’t the least bit shy in explaining his interpretation of why his runners have been doing so well so far this season.
“This is the best girls cross country team Deerfield Academy has had since the school went coed back in 1989,” said Cullinane.
In other words, the veteran mentor is saying this is the best girls cross country team Deerfield has ever had, and although he has only been here for six of those years, there’s plenty of evidence to back up his sentiment – evidence that would include some hardware already earned this fall.
What really brings Cullinane’s opinion into focus, however, is the fact that his squad finished second at the New England Championships last year, “and we have everyone returning from that team.”
Getting the current season off and running by capturing the Canterbury Invitational – which annually boats a 25-team field – for the third consecutive year certainly won’t hurt expectations any. Then, one week later, they lugged the Westminster Invitational trophy home with them after successfully defending their title in that 10-team affair.
This is not the only girls team that is enjoying success so far this fall, however, as the school’s other three programs have also been ringing up way more wins than losses and if this trend continues, the Big Green could be sending all four of its girls teams into tourney play for the first time ever.
“I think the goal of any athletic director is to be competitive in every sport,” said Chip Davis, the school’s AD, “It’s always nice to have those one or two teams that are considered to be the frontrunners but ideally, it’s great to see the wide-spread competitive success we’re enjoying so far this fall … especially from our girls teams”
Heading into this weekend’s action, Deerfield’s other three girls squads (field hockey is 7-3, soccer is 6-3 and volleyball is 5-3) are enjoying great starts and most of the boys teams are doing well, too. The Big Green’s defending New England champion water polo team currently stands at 11-3, cross country has won the coveted Canterbury crown and placed second at the Westminster race. The soccer team (3-5-1) has rebounded from an 0-4 start to go 3-1-1, while football “has been ravaged by injuries this season,” said Davis, and has played a big part in a 1-3 start. Despite the injuries, which include a broken foot to quarterback Damien Vega, the Big Green has hung tough, dropping a 27-26 decision to Taft and a 21-14 game to Hotchkiss.
“We’ve got a big D on our front and a big target on our back,” quipped Cullinane, but it’s no laughing matter, especially for Deerfield’s opponents. His team, which went undefeated during the regular season and has bested about 28 teams during that streak, isn’t about to sneak up on anyone with that sort of resume.
Cullinane’s niece, Devinne Cullinane (14), has made him proud. After placing sixth at last year’s New England meet, she has shown this year that that was no fluke, winning at Canterbury in a time of 19:41, and was first to finish at Westminster as well.
Even with such solid foes as Exeter, Andover and Northfield Mount Hermon still remaining on the schedule, Cullinane feels he has the depth for his squad to continue its winning ways hopefully to and through the New England Championships.
That depth includes senior tri-captains Tatum McInerney, Rose Fisher and Dashiell Shulte, as well as Emma DeCamp (13), Molly Hunt (14), Lilah Lutes (14), Olivia Mehm (14), Kyle Davis (14), Lauren Isley (17) and Phoebe Morss (15).
Boys Cross Country
After finishing second at the New England Cross Country Championships the past two years, the Big Green boys are hoping to make it up that last rung of the ladder this fall to give Deerfield its first boys and girls sweep of the championship in school history.
All the pieces were in place, as coach Mike Schloat lost just one of his top five runners to graduation. He had the horses up front and the depth as well this fall to allow this Deerfield mentor to be thinking “this could be the year.” Those hopes and dreams were put on hold, however, shortly after the Canterbury race when Reed Horton (14), Deerfield’s No. 4 runner who placed 11th at the invitational, developed a stress fracture in his leg a few days later.
“He will have an X-ray taken next week,” explained Cullinane. “If it has healed, he could probably make it back in time for the New England meet. If it’s not, it’s doubtful he would have enough time to get himself back in running shape for the championship race … we should know by Wednesday.
With Horton on the sidelines, the Big Green may not end up with enough points to finish on top or to even finish second for a third consecutive year. With three weeks remaining until show time, however, it’s so far … so good.
That’s because Deerfield’s one … two … three punch has been pretty much finishing one … two … three. Robert Beit (13) placed second at Canterbury (16:38), while he won the Westminster race in a meet record time of 16:55. Ben Wood (13) and George Reich (13), who, along with Teddy Romeyn (13), serve as tri-captains, have also been chipping in. Wood was fifth at both Canterbury and Westminster, while Reich was seventh at Canterbury and third at Westminster.
“With Horton in the lineup at No. 4, he helps bridge the gap to our second wave of runners,” explained Schloat. That second wave consists of Ethan Brand-LaBarge (16), Romeyn, Gene Thagard 915) and Warner Brown (13).
If there is one thing you can count on during the fall at Deerfield Academy, it’s that the Big Green field hockey team will earn a berth in the playoffs. This program, which has captured six Western New England titles over two decades of playing time, has extended its season on 16 occasions. And from the looks of things, another invite should be in the mail soon.
The Big Green has won eight of its first 10 games and outscored its opponents by a 3-to-1 margin: 31-10.
“We’ve gotten off to a terrific start and I just hope it continues,” said coach Kristen Viega. “We’re a young team … we have only five seniors on the roster … but the few seniors we do have, have shown great leadership and have helped instill confidence in the younger players and made this a very determined team. “
Three Big Green players have collected two-thirds of Deerfield’s goals this season. Mettler Growney (13) has 12 points on eight goals and four assists, while Lucy Lytle (15) has six goals and three assists for nine points. Maggie Shilling (14), meanwhile, has eight points on seven goals and one assist.
Things have been going quite well down at the other end of the field as well, as goalie Katherine Heaney (16) has allowed just 10 goals in 10 games.
The rookie netminder has received a great deal of help from her defensive corps in front of her, which includes Emily Yue (16), Louisa Hanson (13), Julia Hamilton (14) and Lindsey Ziglar (13).
The Big Green has scored just 18 goals in nine games so far this season, but they are making them count. The Deerfield girls soccer team has already won more games this season than it did during the entire 2011 campaign. A year ago, the team finished at 5-6-3. This year, it’s off to a 6-3 start, thanks in large part to a defense allowed just 13 goals for a stingy 1.44 goals against average.
“We’ve really got a great team here this year,” said Heidi Valk. “We’ve got a good blend of veterans and a bunch of new kids who are really chipping in and making their presence known and the blend has been really paying off for us … the entire team is playing with much more confidence this season.”
Tally Behringer (14) has been the Big Green’s leading goal getter this fall with six, while Vanessa Avalone (13), Claire Goss (13) and Mercedes Fissore-O’Leary have also helped bolster the Deerfield offense.
Goaltender Libby Murray (14) has orchestrated Deerfield’s stingy defense by registering a pair of shutouts and allowed just a single goal in four other outings and has come up with an average of seven saves a game. She has been ably assisted by some strong defensive play by Cate Wadman (13), Julia Fissore-O’Leary (15), Caroline Coppinger (15) and Allie Roberts (16).
“We’ve beaten some pretty strong soccer programs this season in Exeter, Milton and Williston,” said Valk, “and that’s helped build our confidence. We’ve still got a long way to go and a bunch of tough teams remain on our schedule, but we’ll see how far our talent and confidence will take us.”
Deerfield’s volleyball team has rung up a 5-3 record so far this season and appears to be taking advantage of a strong corps of returning veterans and a bunch of capable newcomers.
The top returnees are Hannah Insuik (13), who earned Boston Globe All-Scholastic honors for her play around the net last season. Plus, she also earned a berth on the Western New England All-Star squad, along with Ashley So (13). With those two leading the way on the Big Green side of the net, Caroline Dye (14) has also returned to the fold, as has Kate Ginna (14). Some of the younger faces who have been contributing so far belong to Zahra Rawji (15), Claire Collins (15) and Maggie Kidder (16).
“This is a great bunch of kids to work with,” said coach Jon Pineo, “they really work hard, they’re focused. We still have a lot of things to work on, but they’re showing more and more improvement every time they head out onto the court.”
Last year’s squad which won just seven games during the regular season earned an invite to the A Division tournament, so this year’s edition should have a good chance as well as it enters the home stretch.
“They take the top eight teams in each of the brackets,” said Pineo, “and right now, I’d say we’re probably ranked sixth or seventh in the standings.”
“We’re still working to be at our best when it counts the most,” said Big Green water polo coach Mark Scandling of a program that has exhibited that trait quite frequently over the past few years. Over the past few years, Scandling has gotten his teams to just about walk on water as they have won two straight New England championships and four of the past five crowns and with an 11-3 record on the season, opponents better have their lifeguards on duty when the Big Green shows up.
“We’ve been improving primarily because of our commitment to team defense,” said Scandling, “and I think we demonstrated that sense of purpose in defeating Choate a couple of weeks ago. During the first game of the season, we allowed them to score 13 goals on us. In our second meeting this season, they scored just five.”
Overall, Deerfield’s defense has stood up to its opponents, allowing 116 goals in 15 games for an average of eight per game The Big Green offense, meanwhile, has found the back of the net 150 times. The guys in the green caps have reached double figures in 10 of their 14 contests, while opponents have reached that mark just five times, and only once in the past eight outings.
A trio of players has been defending the Deerfield goal this season, “and doing it very effectively,” according to their coach. Those three are Francesco Franzinetti (14), Patrick Hadley (14) and Tyler Early. A newcomer, Hugo Marsans (14) “has been playing excellent defense at the 2-meter position for us this season,” said Scandling.
Leading Deerfield’s high-powered offense this season has been Oscar Miao (13), Quinn Smith (14) and Conor Sullivan (15).
The Big Green boys soccer team hits the half-way mark heading in the right direction. It didn’t start out that way, however, as an 0-4 beginning had “long season” written all over it. Following a tough 4-3 loss to perennial powerhouse Kent, however, interim coach Tom Heise, who is filling in for Jan Flaska this fall, got his charges to make a U-turn in south-bound traffic and got them heading in a northerly direction.
That means Deerfield has run off a 3-1-1 showing so far in the month of October, the highlight of which being a stunning 3-2 victory over defending New England champion Hotchkiss, “and we haven’t beaten them in quite some time,” said Heise. Jackson Dayton (13) the team’s leading scorer, led the way to the upset with a pair of goals on the day, while Luke Walsh (13) scored the game winner. Andrew Shediac (13), meanwhile, turned in an outstanding performance in goal for the Big Green.
Others contributing up front for Deerfield have been Stephen Baisch (14) and Zz Salvador (14), while Adam Philie (13) heads up the defensive crew.
“I’m really proud of this entire team,” said Heise. “They’re just a wonderful group of kids and it’s been a tremendous thrill for me to have been able to coach them.
“They’re a hard-working bunch as well, “ added Heise, ”and I think that hard work is beginning to pay off.”
What began as a promising season following a commanding 33-7 victory over arch-rival Northfield Mount Hermon School, has dipped to a 1-3 showing at the halfway mark as this Deerfield squad has been besieged by a rash of injuries.
Despite the loss of players, the victories haven’t come easy for the Big Green’s opponents. It lost to Taft by a 27-26 margin in what Chip Davis, the team’s defensive coordinator described as “our best played game of the season.” Then came a loss to Hotchkiss by a 21-14 count.
The biggest loss of the season was quarterback Damien Vega (13) who suffered a broken foot against Taft and will miss the remainder of the season.
As far as Saturday’s game at Exeter (4-0 on the season), Deerfield will head into the game without any official captains suiting up. Both co-captains – linebacker and fullback Ray Horgan (13) and linebacker and center JR Mastro (13) – are on the shelf with knee and shoulder injuries respectively.
Billy Smith (13), who is primarily a receiver but who played quarterback in high school has filled in for Vega at quarterback, while John Jackson (14) has proven to be the Big Green’s leading rusher.