By Darren Lum
After opening the Kawartha High School Field Hockey League season with a home loss against the Hurricanes the week before, the Red Hawks girls’ field hockey team was able to take the energy from the home crowd and enable them to sustain an intensity worthy of a win for the duration of the game against the top-ranked Saints from St. Peter Catholic Secondary School.
Despite the strong play, it wasn’t enough against the undefeated Saints’ side that included two elite players said the Hawks head coach, Steve Smith and the team’s three captains, Bella Smolen, Brook Stover and Cassidy McMullen.
Coach Smith wrote in a message, “The Saints have a couple of key players who dominate the play with their stick handling and movement of the ball. The team plays very aggressively but, clean, no real rough plays. They collapse on defence and put many bodies in the circle to defend. This will create opportunities for our girls moving forward.”
Before the game, he told the Hawks side to remember the pressure was on the opposition.
“I told the girls that they were playing next week regardless of the outcome of this game and the pressure was mostly on the Saints to remain unbeaten. I told them that they have had a great week of practices and to be proud of where they have come in a short turnaround since starting off as a “club” initially and then having to decide whether to be competitive against other schools. This was a group decision which I supported,” he said.
He continued, “The goal for this game was to be smart about where and when opportunities arose and to capitalize on them. We had a lot of opportunities during the first half and the girls played extremely well against the Saints.”
Following the loss, the Hawks players came together for a brief cheer.
Co-captain Stover explained the team’s performance belied this result and was deserving of a cheer.
“We cheered because we may not have won point wise, but we played really well and had … a lot of it was very evened out,” she said.
Co-captain Smolen added the team wasn’t only strong for the first half like the week before against the Hurricanes, but for the entire game.
“At the half, we kind of shut down, but this week we played straight through,” she said.
She pointed out the Hawks kept the game close, losing 1-nil, which was a better goal differential when compared to the Hurricanes, who lost 4-1 to the Saints.
Co-captain McMullen said she was just happy to have been able to play at all after the pandemic left the team without a season. She believed her team was better prepared than the first game.
Stover said first game jitters were a factor last week and this wasn’t the case against the Saints.
“A lot of it is a lot of our team has never played a game before, so that was our first game for a lot of us and now we’re more experienced from the other game and we learned from our last one and applied it here,” she said.
Spacing between players and execution of plays has improved, she added.
This Saints game also provided an insight to the Hawks about areas the team needs to improve with such as the “diamond” defensive scheme said McMullen. A momentary lapse allowed a break in the defence for the Saints to find the back of the net in the second half.
The Hawks and the Hurricanes will square off this week in a Kawartha semi-final game.
The winner will play the Saints the next week for the Kawartha title. In the case of a tie, the team with the better goal differential will advance to play the Saints, which will be the Hawks, who are negative two while the Hurricanes are negative three. Both games are at 3 p.m. The Kawartha champion will advance to OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) championship because this year there won’t be COSSA (Central Ontario Secondary Schools Association) championship.
Typically there would be two games in the day, but with COVID-19 protocols there is only one game a week permitted.
The captains’ message to their team moving forward is to “To be loud and be proud.”
Stover said she wants the team to get excited and Smolen said it will help the players to play with their heads up to ensure they can see the play develop, ensuring there is spacing and to prevent fouls of obstruction.
“Considering the times we’re in it’s great. Things have gotten back to slightly normal,” Stover said.
Smith said it was coaching errors this game like last game that contributed to challenges on the pitch.
“Again, a couple of coaching changes made for a tired bunch of girls who had to maintain their cool during a barrage of short corners – eight. The defence and goalies had their work cut out for them during that time,” he said. “The goal today was to compete and they did more than do that and gave the first place team something to talk about on the way back home.”
Smith said the team is coming together well this short season.
“The girls are starting to gel as a team and improving each and every day. As coaches we are extremely proud of them,” he said.