By Chris Negrini/Zip06.com • 9/20-2021 4:00 a.m. EST
The Old Saybrook field hockey squad made great strides as a program last year and in 2021 the team looks as strong as ever. The Rams added three wins to their tally last week, moving to a 5-0 record, and while their offense doesn’t look as dominant as last season, Head Coach Nancy Gatta and Assistant Coach Sarah Thompson have enjoyed watching this well-rounded group defeated opponents in different ways.
Coach Gatta is impressed with what she has seen of the team so far this season. The Rams didn’t have time to fix the problems in the preseason games because there were no scrimmages on their schedule. So far, that doesn’t seem to have a major impact on the team’s game.
“I’m very happy because we didn’t have any scrimmages at the start of the season. When we went into the first few games we weren’t sure where some of the players would be. We’re getting to the point after five games where we know where our players are most effective,” said Gatta. “These last five games have really helped us fuse as a team and we’re looking forward to the upcoming games against some more difficult ones. teams like North Branford, so we have to look back at places where those last five games could have gone wrong and make sure we get better as a group.”
On September 15, the Rams took a 4-1 win over Suffield at home. The games started a bit stiff, but after an early deficit Old Saybrook was able to take over the game. The Rams were bolstered by the play of senior MacKenna Cooke, who played for the Suffield team before coming to Old Saybrook.
“The interesting part was MacKenna playing for Suffield. She played against some of her former teammates. Most of all, she wanted to win that game,” said Gatta. “In the beginning it was a struggle to find our rhythm. They were a bit intimidated by the class M opponent and weren’t sure what to expect. Once they got their groove on, they did well. Suffield scored first within the first two minutes, that woke us up and got us going.”
After Suffield scored the first goal of the game, Old Saybrook tied the game before the end of the first quarter and continued to score for the rest of the game. Cooke scored a goal and provided two assists. Senior captains Grace Adams scored a goal and fellow captain Libby Stuart provided an assist. Junior Jessica Kidd scored a goal, as did senior Alexa Coty.
Old Saybrook captains Adams and Stuart have already made significant contributions this season, but coach Gatta already knew her team had chosen the captains correctly through their commitment to the development of the entire squad.
“Last year’s team all voted for the top two they saw as captains. I’ll let the team decide, and if I agree, we’ll go there. There are other seniors on the team who are great and contribute to this success, but they are the two the team picked last year,” said Gatta. “Grace and Libby have been great so far. team worked on conditioning. We have 12 freshmen and Grace and Libby have done a great job including the younger girls and getting to know each other better. They are part of the game day rituals and everything we do.”
On September 16, the Rams played a close game against East Lyme. Old Saybrook played just 24 hours after their last game and coach Gatta could see that her side wasn’t the strongest throughout the game. That ensured that the Rams played some bonus hockey in extra time. Junior Sage Arpaia scored Rams’ only regulation goal and Coty scored the winning goal with a nice assist from Adams.
“We were a bit flat from playing the day before. We came back and scored in the second quarter to equalize. We overrun their keeper, but she was great. We had some corners with chances, but it just didn’t happen,” said Gatta. “Finally in extra time Grace had a break on the field. She made a beautiful cross to Alexa and she made a one-time timeout in about three minutes into overtime. We wanted to score early and we succeeded. The last thing we wanted was a full overtime after playing the day before. We had a lot of chances so we brought the OT at us, but they worked extra hard to finish the game. It’s a good lesson.”
Two days later, the Ram took a 3-0 win over Fitch. After a long, tense game against East Lyme on Thursday, Old Saybrook was able to take on Fitch without much drama. Adams scored a couple of goals, while Stuart had a goal to her name. Cooke provided an assist. Coach Gatta thought the defense played a great game, thanks in part to the play of senior Chelsea Heinke, who entered the backfield after three seasons as a striker.
“The defense was so effective at keeping the ball out of our zone. In the second half they had some effective corners and offensive pushes, but our defense had a few saves on the goal line to keep the shutout,” said Gatta. “Chelsea are very fast, they always played forward. Last year she moved to defense, and she’s come to love that place. She’s embraced the centre-back and she’s great at taking the ball off the field from the backfield. She has been a huge asset there this year.”
Coach Gatta is trying a slightly different approach in the cage this season as the Rams have two primary goalkeepers in junior Brianna Aspajo-Berdiales and junior Kate Molesky. Each goalkeeper plays half of Old Saybrook’s matches.
“We split the time between them and they both take the job very seriously. They support each other during training and they are both very vocal in the back and stay involved in the game,” said Gatta. “I usually let them play half the game each. First 2 quarters and second two quarters. We will continue like this until we feel we need a change.”
Coach Gatta was excited to see the change from attacking powerhouse to a solid team across the field, and she hopes the Old Saybrook community will come out and see the Rams do something special this season.
“This year I feel like we are a well-rounded team. We have good forwards, middies and backs. Every position on the field is covered by experienced players, and the spots where I have to use newer varsity players are surrounded by experience,” said Gatta. “We have a tradition that goes back to when I played for Saybrook. We’ve won championships. We’re very proud of this program. We’re happy with how far we’ve come. We’re getting fans and alum to games, and the program is coming again to life. It’s nice to see everything coming together. Come cheer on these girls. They work hard and love to listen to the audience.”
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