by Bob York
The postseason has simply become an extension of the regular season as far as Big Green field hockey is concerned.
The names and faces have obviously changed during the 24 years of the program’s existence, but its address hasn’t—and that’s made it easy for New England Prep School Athletic Council tournament officials to so frequently summon Deerfield Academy to “Come on down!”
This storied program raised the curtain on its 24th season last month and will be seeking its 20th tourney invite when it lowers the curtain next month. And, as the Big Green hits the midway mark of its 2013 campaign this Saturday, it would appear as though invite No. 20 is in the offing.
Deerfield has done just about everything it possibly could this fall to catch the eye of the NEPSAC officials. The team has jumped out to a 5-0-1 record and has outscored its opponents by a commanding 18-5 margin. It’s that tie, however, that might impress the tournament brass more than some of those wins and it certainly has created quite a buzz in the Big Green camp.
“We hadn’t beaten or even tied Hotchkiss in recent years,” said Coach Kristen Veiga of the 1-1 deadlock. Earning that tie was made even sweeter by the fact that not too many other teams have beaten or tied Hotchkiss over the past decade or so, either. When Greenwich Academy bested the Bearcats in overtime during last fall’s tournament finale, it closed out a string of 10 consecutive years that Hotchkiss had won the New England crown.
“Tying Hotchkiss was a huge confidence builder for us,” said Co-captain Julia Hamilton ’14, who posted Deerfield’s lone tally of the game. “It showed us early on that we can compete with the best teams in the league as well as the best teams in New England.”
Despite the fact that Hamilton plays defense, adding a little punch to the Big Green offense is nothing new for her. As a junior, she produced nine points on five goals and four assists, and so far this season, she has accounted for two goals and set up four others.
The Smith College bound defenseman has figured into the Deerfield stat sheets rather frequently due to the fact that “I set up the corner shots,” and that’s exactly how she scored against Hotchkiss.
“I passed the ball into Caroline Ashford ’14, who took the shot on goal,” explained Hamilton. “Lucy Lytle ’15 then tipped it. The ball popped up in the air and by that time I had gotten over to the front of the net and I just hit the ball right out of the air and into the net.
“It’s the biggest goal of my career,” said Hamilton, who was immediately mobbed by her teammates. “I’ll never forget it … it was so exciting.”
Although her team is in the midst of one of its typical fast starts, Veiga, who has chalked up a 20-9-2 record through her first two years as head of the program, prefers to take it one game at a time for a few more weeks before allowing herself to even think about a possible tournament invitation.
“We’ve done pretty well for ourselves so far, and that tie with Hotchkiss has given the girls a real confidence builder,” she admitted, “but with other perennially strong programs such as Loomis, Taft, Westminster, Andover, and defending champion Greenwich yet to play, we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Deerfield’s offense is well rounded, as Maggie Shilling ’14, Ashford, Lytle, and Hamilton top the team scoring charts, with the Big Green averaging three goals a game.
Shilling, the other co-captain, who is averaging more than a point a game (3-5-8) as the midway mark beckons, will be seeking her third straight tournament appearance next month. The last time Deerfield failed to receive a postseason invite “was my freshman year,” recalled the four-year starter, “and take it from me, making the tournament is certainly a much more enjoyable way of ending the season.”
As for the key to Deerfield’s success during her career here, Shilling feels as though the wins are more a result of the way the team plays rather than who’s playing.
“We keep losing key players to graduation, but we still keep on winning,” explained Shilling, who collected nine goals and a pair of assists last season. “It doesn’t make sense unless you take a close look at the way we play … then it begins to make a lot of sense. We’ve become successful and remained successful because we play together … we play as a unit … and it’s helped make the program one of the best throughout New England.”
Hamilton, who has been a part of the program since her sophomore year, knows nothing of missing playoff berths—and doesn’t want to, either.
“We work well together as a team,” said Hamilton, echoing Shilling’s sentiment. She wasn’t through, however—she also pointed to the depth of her teams.
“Whenever we lose a starter to an injury or for whatever reason they are unable to play, we always seem to have a sub who not only fills in, but is capable of making an impact out there on the field,” added Hamilton. “It’s a great situation to be in.”
There’s another big piece of the puzzle for the Big Green at the other end of the field as well, and that would be goalie Katherine Heaney ’16. Last year, as a freshman, Heaney allowed just 13 goals in 13 games. She posted five shutouts and gave up just one goal during five other outings. This season, she has maintained her stingy ways, issuing just five goals in six games and has recorded two shutouts to date.
“She’s just been phenomenal,” said Veiga of her goaltender. “As a freshman, she not only played like a veteran, but she acted like one, too. No matter what the situation, she always remains unflappable. She showed a lot of poise as a freshman, has shown that same poise this season, and it’s nice to know we have a goalie like Katherine to build our program around for the next two years.”
Bob York may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org