The St. Mary’s of Lynn field hockey team is in its first season as a varsity program, and to say that there have been challenges above the norm would be an understatement.
With the city of Lynn still designated as a COVID-19 high-risk community by the state’s Department of Public Health, the Spartans do not have a home field this fall. So coach Victoria Ault and her squad have been practicing at Bishop Fenwick (a fellow Catholic Central school) and Gordon College in Wenham while playing its abbreviated 12-game regular-season schedule on the road.
St. Mary’s, along with fellow Catholic Central members Austin Prep and John Paul II, is making its debut in a season in which MIAA modifications because of the pandemic have resulted in 7-on-7, no penalty corners, and all players wearing masks.
“It just contributes to their focus and discipline that they’ve had to learn in a short amount of time,” Ault said. “It contributes to their willingness to win.”
Ault, who guided the Spartans last fall as a club program, led St. Mary’s to its first varsity victory Monday night, a 5-4 win over Central Catholic. The Spartans opened the season with an 8-2 loss to Bishop Feehan and a scoreless draw against Bishop Stang.
“It’s definitely presented its challenges for the girls, having to play with only six field players and with the masks on, but I think they’re handling it very well,” Ault said. “It’s cool to see the strategies that programs all across Massachusetts are putting into place. Do we go with three forwards? Do we go with three midfielders? You really didn’t have to think about that much with 11-on-11.”
Senior captain Pej’ae Parent, who scored a goal in Monday’s victory over Central Catholic, has been impressed with Ault’s leadership.
“She’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Parent, who transferred to St. Mary’s from Ipswich halfway through her sophomore year. “She’s so understanding, she’s able to connect with all of the girls very well. She’s just an amazing coach.”
Austin Prep is under the direction of Brianna Robbins. In Hyannis, St. John Paul II also made the leap to varsity status this fall under coach Ted Guazzaloca, who previously coached JV field hockey in Barnstable.
Guazzaloca, who has taught science at various levels for 36 years, said he feels like an old dog who’s learned new tricks when it comes to coaching the 7-on-7 game. With roots as a hockey player, he weighed implementing a substitution system used on the ice.
“The 7 v 7 presents a challenge itself because it changes the game significantly,” Guazzaloca said. “I thought about maybe treating it as line changes in ice hockey, but based on the number of girls who’ve played before, that might not be the way to go.”
There are a number of new coaches in the region who are trying to navigate this challenging season.
Pembroke (MacKenzie McDonald, Class of 2016) and Sharon (Paulina Kosmadakis, ’15) have turned to young alumna to lead their varsity programs, while Hanover hired Deb Bostwick, who coached at Cohasset High from 1988-2007, to replace 500-game winner Judy Schneider after her retirement.
Bostwick, who coached Hanover’s JV team in 2018 and 2019, said having familiarity with many of the players helped her transition back into her varsity role. The biggest challenge, Bostwick said, was “trying to follow all the safety protocols so we can have a full season and not abruptly get ended.”
McDonald, who graduated from Nichols College last spring, had no prior coaching experience when she was hired to lead the Titans in early September. But she noted that by playing in indoor field hockey leagues, which often utilize a 7-on-7 format, she had a basic understanding of how the modified game would work this fall.
After meeting with prospective players via Zoom before tryouts – nearly 50 girls in all, she said – McDonald pondered what system to implement, knowing the fundamentals of the game will again change dramatically in a post-pandemic world.
“Toward the end of the season, I’ll definitely get into corners so that underclassmen can have some memorized for the following season,” McDonald said. “We had a couple of run-throughs at the start of the season so that freshmen, or people who’ve never played before, got to see and understand what a corner is and what they’ll be having in the future.”
It’s a family affair at Sharon, as Kosmadakis has been joined by her sister, Natalie, as JV coach and her mother, Kelly, as freshman coach.
Paulina Kosmadakis, who works as an oncology nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, spent time in the coronavirus unit during the springtime peak of the pandemic. She said she was surprised when she found out there would be field hockey season this fall and admitted that, at first, she wasn’t prepared.
Now that the games have begun for the Eagles, however, Kosmadakis said that the girls are so excited that it has made it all worthwhile. “The kids are so young, they’re so flexible and adaptable that it makes it a lot easier,” she said. “We’re kind of learning it all together.”
▪ Sports deemed to be at a high risk of spreading COVID-19 in the Merrimack Valley Conference (MVC) have been stalled until the high-risk status of communities in the conference is dropped.
The Andover field hockey team, a perennial power in Division 1 North, has yet to play a game this season.
“It has been a roller coaster,” said Andover coach Maureen Noone. “We keep waiting, getting excited to play and then not so much . . . It has been tough.”
The Golden Warriors are hoping to get good news Thursday when MVC superintendents meet to determine what schools can safely play this weekend. With no game action and potentially short notice of when they will play next, Andover has had to rely on practice competition to stay sharp.
“We are fortunate that we have a great JV team. When we do practice, whether it is a full scrimmage, partial scrimmage, or drills, we’re actually getting good competition,” Noone said. “It isn’t too lopsided. We do a lot of flip flopping of kids. It is very hard to talk about what you are preparing for when you don’t know. You work on all the little technical things within the game.”
▪ Lopsided scores have emerged as an early trend in the pandemic season. In its first three games, Watertown outscored Wakefield (twice) and Melrose by a combined, 17-0. Weston jolted Wayland (twice) and Waltham for an 18-1 aggregate. Walpole erupted for 10 goals in the first half vs. Weymouth.
Through its first three games, Lexington has seen the advantages of seven players a side and the challenges of having so much space to play with. The Minutewomen scored 14 total goals in their first two games, but squeaked out a 1-0 victory over Arlington on Columbus Day.
“[In 11-on-11] you can make a lot of mistakes if you don’t know how to defend,” said Lexington head coach Laura Galopim. “[In 7-on-7] you want to just go to the ball, but there is a lot of space behind you. If you get beat, you’re in big trouble. You are sprinting back 30 yards. Our focus is going to be how to defend more in open space. The defense is running a lot more than they would in 11-on-11.”
Athletic teams that can play with skill, speed, patience, and are in good shape are benefiting the most from the modified rules.
“In a 7-on-7 game it should be a like a game of keepaway because there is so much space, so you are always going to find a lane,” Galopim said. “It is just getting the kids to trust everyone on their team. It is just discipline. It is OK if you don’t always go forward. Just keep possession and look for those opportunities.”
John Hand also contributed to this story.