Strangely, it might have been the Hornets’ wealth of experience that worked against them in their season-opening loss to Ipswich.
“In the first game, I think, for as well-seasoned a team as we are, we weren’t prepared for seven-on-seven,” explains Manchester Essex field hockey coach Kara Crovo. “We were playing more of an 11-v-11 game.”
The assessment makes some sense: While this is a young team dominated by a talented core of underclassmen, those sophomores and freshmen boast an impressive amount of club and middle school experience, and spent a good deal of time at the varsity level during last year’s run to the Division 2 North quarterfinals. This is a group with a firm grasp of the fundamentals of the sport, and the fundamentals changed during the offseason.
As a safety precaution due to the COVID pandemic, the MIAA guidelines required a change from its standard 11-on-11 format to a 7-on-7 format for field hockey this fall. With a shorter preseason than usual with which to prepare, the Hornets struggled a bit out of the gate.
“It’s so strange because every team plays so differently,” explains Crovo. “You could have a breakaway, which is not so common in 11-on-11, but it is when you play 7-on-7.”
The positive from that season-opening loss? This team adapted quickly and has reeled off three straight victories since then: A 4-3 win over Lynnfield on Oct. 8, a 6-1 win over Triton a day after that and a 3-1 win over Georgetown on Oct. 12.
“I think after that game, we acclimated pretty well to 7-on-7,” says Crovo. “We say, ‘You either win or you learn,’ and we definitely learned from that.”
That meant changing up strategy and approach on a game-by-game basis. The coach is also making more substitutions to ensure each player is fresh and ready to go when they are on the field.
“You have to almost constantly be getting kids in and out,” says Crovo. “You also have to pick the right time to do it, otherwise you could have a kid running off the field during a breakaway.”
Thankfully, this is a pretty savvy group of players who have a feel for this kind of thing. Leading the way are senior captains Lily Athanas and Anna Coyne.
“They’ve both played well, and they have a lot of good leadership skills,” Crovo says of the captains.
Also of note has been the play of sophomore Amalie Vytopilova.
“She’s a sophomore, but she’s a kid with a lot of club experience,” says Crovo. “She’s done a great job on our top line scoring goals for us this season.”
On defense, the team has been able to count on the play of Hadley Levendusky and senior Jen O’Neil.
“They’ve been great back there,” Crovo says of her defenders.
“I think we’ve got a lot of kids who have been playing for a while, whether it's in middle school or on clubs,” adds the coach. “I think we’ve been able to come together as a team in a short amount of time because we didn’t get the preseason we’re used to.”
The Hornets were slated to play a key game against Newburyport during the middle of this week, and face Amesbury at home on Oct. 23. Other key matchups this season are a matchup at North Reading on Oct. 27 and a potential rescheduled date against Pentucket - the game was originally scheduled for Oct. 16 but bumped to a later date to be determined.
While a 3-1 start could portend to another winning season for ME field hockey team, once the regular season ends, there will be no possibility of a repeat run in the postseason. Pandemic restrictions have eliminated tournament play in 2020.
“You don’t play sports just because you feel like it, you play because you’re a competitive person, and you have a competitive drive and edge to you,” says Crovo. “It’s a bummer we don’t get that postseason excitement, but we are happy to just be outside and playing sports right now.”