Is this the year that they take the next step?
The Manchester Essex field hockey program has been no stranger to success in the recent past, and 2023 has been no exception. With wins over St. John Paul and Hopedale last week, the Hornets have made it to the Final Four of the MIAA Div. 4 tournament for the third year in a row.
With that in mind, it’s important to look back at the recent history: Manchester Essex made it to the Final Four before being eliminated by Uxbridge in 2021, then advanced one step further before falling to Uxbridge again in the 2022 State Final.
In 2023, the second-seeded Hornets easily dispatched of the competition so far and were slated to face third-seeded Monomoy in the 2023 Final Four on Nov. 15. A win there, and they would advance to face the winner of the Uxbridge-Sutton game (scheduled for Nov. 14). Can this group pick up another win at this level, and then move on to the state final and finally claim it after coming close recently? The Hornets certainly have the makeup to make the leap and claim the big prize based on their play so far.
“This is actually the third year in a row that we’ve made it to the semi-finals, and we’re beyond excited,” explains MERHS field hockey coach Courtney Brown. “This team is built for playoffs; no one can deny that their play and connection has improved dramatically over the last two weeks. There’s so much heart and skill on that field, and that’s really what I think puts us ahead of our opponents. As a coach making it to this point, I like to just remind the girls that we have the experience.”
The stars could be aligning for a clash of the titans in the state final once again, should the Hornets win against Monomoy and Uxbridge prevail over Sutton. It’s an enticing scenario that puts the pressure on Manchester Essex players, with Brown quick to remind her charges of the mantra, “Pressure is a privilege."
First, the Hornets have to get by the Sharks in the semi-final game. The Harwich-based school claimed the top spot in the Cape and Island Conference, going 13-2-3 and earning the third overall seed in Div. 4.
“We know Monomoy is a strong program and has had a great run this season,” says Brown. “They remind me a lot of our team—lots of speed, discipline, and depth. They’re fairly young, though, so I’m hoping that our experience gives us the edge. It will be our hardest game thus far, for sure, but we’re going to be ready.”
That this team will be prepared to play against Monomoy should come as no surprise to anyone who witnessed Manchester Essex’s dominance in a 7-1 win over St. John Paul II in the Sweet Sixteen on Nov. 7, followed by a 5-0 win over Hopedale in the Elite Eight on Nov. 10.
“We wanted the first two games of the playoffs to set the tone for us, so the girls came out hungry in both games,” explains Brown. “Across the board, these girls play hard all four quarters, as you could see in our scoring breakdown - [there were] multiple goals each quarter. With that, the level of play and intensity stays consistent no matter who is on the field. In addition to us being able to catch both teams on their heels, we really believe in ourselves and that ‘refuse to lose’ attitude.”
Torrin Kirk netted a hat trick against St. John Paul II, underscoring her importance to the Hornets’ success in 2023.
“She has gotten so much more impactful in front of the net as the season has progressed,” Brown says of Kirk. “She’s worked incredibly hard to perfect positioning, stick angle and productive movement as the center-forward.”
Manchester Essex took a more democratic approach to scoring in the win over Hopedale, with five different players scoring each of the Hornets’ five goals.
“Against Hopedale, we had five different scorers, and my shoutouts go to our underclassmen Sadie Potter, Molly Schimpf and Abby Kent,” says Brown. “Abby plays her heart out every second of every game, not only as a forward but also as a mid. Freshmen Sadie and Molly both got the final touch on balls sent in from Caelie [Patrick].”