CHESHIRE — The “pods” are gone, the schedule is once again full and a raft of rookies dot the field hockey landscape.
The one with the highest profile is a head coach taking up the reins of a team for which she once played.
And it wasn’t all that long ago.
Kya O’Donnell was aboard for the Class L state championship Cheshire won in 2011. Now she’s running the show in the most checkered field hockey program in the Record-Journal coverage area.
Not that O’Donnell has to be told about Cheshire tradition. She came of age in it.
Now 24, O’Donnell inherits a team from her mentor, Eileen Wildermann, that went 11-1 in 2020, when the season was truncated by the pandemic. October 1 was the start date, teams stayed within geographically defined groups and limited conference tourneys stood in as the “postseason experience.”
A year later, the season is starting on time, teams are playing everyone in their conference and a state tournament will follow the regular season.
“This season will definitely be one for the books,” O’Donnell said. “I am expecting this team to start and finish strong. After speaking with our captains, they have expressed how excited they all are to have a ‘normal’ season again.”
The Rams will be led by returning All-State midfielder Lauren Houle and a deep senior class that also includes Emily Curtis, Avery DePodesta, Leah Black, Jenna Kemp, Emma Lepisto, Rebecca Prior and Hannah Jalowiec.
They did graduate Record-Journal Player of the Year Raegan Bailey, now playing lacrosse at the University of New Haven, as well as Sophie Vagts, now playing field hockey at Bryn Mawr. Fellow All-RJ players Taylor Warburton and Tarana Eldredge have also moved on.
In Ramland, though, they reload with sophomore Ellen Barto and juniors Taya Buntin, Julia Bailey, Gianna Ronaldo, Ava Harris, Ava Matikowski, Cat Palma, Reilly Whalen and Elise Hurlburt.
Virginia Curello, a sophomore, leads the rookie class.
“Our team, in general, has set a lot of goals and expectations for themselves this year,” said O’Donnell. “I believe if we continue to put the work in and make adjustments where needed, then we will be successful in accomplishing those goals.”
O’Donnell and the 2021 Rams make their debut Thursday at Lyman Hall.
Along with playing the 12 other members of the SCC at least once, Cheshire tangles twice with Daniel Hand and goes out of conference to battle New Canaan, Conard and Simsbury.Lyman Hall
It’s a challenge this fall for LH coach Stephanie Lavado-Berghorn and her staff.
They graduated 10 players from last year’s 1-8-1-1 team, including All-RJ players Ashleen Keating, Grace Chappell and InHwa Ferretti, and roster numbers are the lowest in Lavado-Berghorn’s 12 seasons — 24, with nine of the girls new to the sport.
That said, the Trojans say bring it on.
“We are excited to teach the new players the game and grow the game for the future,” Lavado-Berghorn remarked. “We are optimistic about getting back to our normal schedule and getting an opportunity to face all of the SCC teams this year and really show our strength and improvement.
“Although we graduated 10 players last season and are truly a rebuilt team, we are excited to see who will step up and shine.”
Senior captains Julie Fredricksen and Erin Cioffi are the leading lights. Fredricksen is a defender, Cioffi a midfielder.
LH also returns its goalie, junior Leah Herpok, sophomore midfielders Brooke and Bree Foucault, and sophomore forward Emilie Weir.
Incoming freshmen Kaylin Findley, a midfielder/forward, and Charlie Elliott, a defender, show promise.
The Trojans twice play Sheehan and North Haven. The rivalry dates with the Titans are Sept. 15 at Lyman Hall at Oct. 21 at Riccitelli Field. Both are 6:30 starts.Sheehan
Like their crosstown rivals, the Titans are young after graduating 10 from last year’s 1-7-1 squad.
That includes several multi-sport athletes who have moved on to the college arena — Caitlyn Velez (basketball, Randolph Macon), Mallory Crispens (lacrosse, Stonehill) and Jessica Davies (field hockey, ECSU).
Velez, Davies and fellow 2021 graduate Dempsey Lajoie were All-RJ Field Hockey selections.
The returning group, though, does have varsity experience. That includes goalie Rilee Reutenauer, who was in net last year as a freshman.
Also back is junior Maya Wreisen and senior captains Aubrey Monroe, Emily Jasinski, Esha Garg and Makenna Sinisgalli.
Among the rising underclassmen, junior Gabrielle Gawlak and sophomores Reilly Hunter and Samantha Brown are expected to make a fast impact.
“I'm extremely excited to have a full schedule and a mostly normal season,” remarked coach Katie Gill. “We graduated 10 seniors last season and, even though we are young, I am confident we will have a great season. We have a lot of young, talented players who are working hard this preseason and we cannot wait to get rolling.”
Sheehan opens Thursday night at North Haven. The Titans play North Haven twice along with Lyman Hall and Mercy. They go out-of-conference to visit Southington on Oct. 6.Southington
The Lady Knights look to bounce back from a year they’d just as soon forget: no wins in a brutal Central Connecticut Conference pod and a premature end of the season thanks to quarantine.
Southington graduated seven players from the 2020 squad, including All-RJ players Tracy Lam and Jillian Rohon and goalie Abby Delgado, who is now in net at St. Joseph College.
Coach Erin Luddy will structure her 2021 squad around returning seniors Ali Barner, Lindsey Catlin and Melania Coleman. They’ll anchor each level of the field — Barner on defense, Catlin in the midfield and Coleman on the forward line.
Another key returning player is junior midfielder Lili Doran. Moving up the varsity ladder are some of her fellow juniors — Ava Coppola, Mia Leahy, Kayla and Nicole DePodesta and Elyse and Erin Picard.
The DePodestas and Picards are identical twins.
“After a year of uncertainty, we are looking forward to having a season,” said Luddy, whose squad opens the season next Monday in South Windsor. “We graduated seven starters, but there is some young talent that is looking forward to making its own mark. We are a young team, but are determined to succeed.”