In a year of unknowns, positivity is a constant for the Wethersfield field hockey program.
“We want to stay positive about the whole situation,” said senior Morgan Cathcart, “We want to get all of our games in and have a successful season like last year.”
Cathcart was one of six seniors honored on October 1 at Cottone Field as the Eagles opened the 2020 season with a 4-0 shutout of Newington.
Head coach Colleen Budaj decided to move the team’s Senior Night to the season opener because of the uncertainty surrounding the fall sports season, “In my mind I thought if the season gets pulled, we have to recognize them. I wanted to make sure they were recognized the first day we can get on this field.”
Budaj’s deep senior class includes her daughter, Sydney Budaj, who said the adjustment to the new regulations are difficult but manageable, “I think that this has brought us closer together. We’re a super close, tight-knit team. I think we came in with the same attitude this year but we definitely trying to keep everyone safe.”
Wethersfield entered 2020 coming off three straight tournament appearance, which includes a remarkable 2019 in which they won 15 or 16 regular season games.
The program’s ascent has been steady since Budaj took over.
Coach Budaj’s challenge this season is two folds; continue to build off the success of the past three years and navigate through the zaniness of 2020.
“We talked to the kids the other day about how we don’t want to approach it differently, but it has felt different. We want to do whatever we can do within the restrictions of what the CIAC gave us, so those first couple of weeks felt slow. Lots of individual stick work and cardio. Every day the kids wanted to scrimmage, they wanted to do drills, so it was slow, deliberate, calculated which I think made them a little anxious. As coaches, our hands have been tied and there are so many things that are out of our control,” said Budaj, who coaches with her husband, Steve, “One of the things that we keep telling them is appreciate what we have. Appreciate everything that we have together. At Wethersfield High we can let fans in, a lot of places can’t let fans in. The fact that we were able to enjoy this with our families tonight and celebrate all of it has been important. We’re trying really hard to get them to celebrate each day that we have together.”
With the continuing uncertainty surrounding the high school sports, senior Emily Bielawiec appreciates the opportunity to play more than ever, “It’s very rewarding. I’ve always loved this team and I always wanted to come back. Playing each game like it could be your last is the mindset that we all have. We want to stay positive, keep going, and hopefully the season doesn’t end.”
The win over Newington was highlighted by four first-half goals. Senior Kate Anzidei scored two, fellow senior Lorien Touponse added another, and junior Kathryn Bello tallied the other.
The offense is picking up right where they left off at the end of last season, when they average 3.5 goals per game over 16 regular season contests.
“The attack comes from all different sides this year. When you have Lorien streaking down with those tremendous stick skills on the left, she’s hard to defend because most people aren’t used to someone coming at them from the opposite side,” stated Budaj.
Junior Julia Peacock was perfect in goal, aided by a swarming Eagles defense.
Peacock, a returning starter, will again tend goal along with sophomore Veronica McKenna.
“We want to get both of them some varsity time. Veronica spent most of her time on JV last season but they both have grown together, they’ve pushed each other,” added Budaj, “Their comradery has been awesome, so we talk to them about splitting time this year to get them both experience working at varsity level. That competition piece is always important. You want them to push each other, you want them to motivate and help each other excel.”
Last week, the Eagles continued to soar with shutout wins over Conard and East Catholic, accompanied by a tie with Northwest Catholic.
So far the season has gone on without a hitch and the Eagles seem destined for another successful season, shortened or not.
Cathcart, whose mom Donna was the field hockey coach prior to Budaj taking over, just wants to enjoy each game and stay positive no matter what changes occur, “Personally I tried not to approach [this season] any different. I tried to keep the mindset that we were going to have a season and play every game. I think the team as a whole decided to keep working as hard as we could so we would be ready when we had a chance to play.”
Newington Field Hockey: “Small, But Mighty”
Newington field hockey came out on the losing end against Wethersfield to open the season. The 4-0 defeat was just another stepping-stone for a developing, vibrant team looking towards the future.
“We’re just trying to keep it positive and fun, yet competitive,” said Newington’s fourth-year head coach Veronica Grubin, “We’re letting the girls focus on what they can control in these circumstance, because for a lot of us there is a lot of uncontrollable right now. I’m just really proud of their performance today. I thought they worked as hard as they could and out their heart and souls into it.”
Grubin is leading a team with only three seniors during this bizarre season, “It’s very strange. Up until last week we were only doing individual skill work and conditioning, so trying and put a very young team together in a week and a half is no easy task, but I’m just really happy with their progress. As long as they are working hard that’s all I can ask and I’m happy with that.”
Senior Caitlyn Smith is a captain, helping coach the players on the field and is thankful for each game, “We have to approach every game and put our heart and souls into it, and make it matter. Our team is definitely small but we are mighty together and it has brought us together so much.”
Smith, a returning varsity player from 2019, said the team is focusing on what they can control in the moment and aims for “pride, passion and positivity” each time they step foot on the field.
Alexis Santo and Nicole DeBlasio are the team’s other seniors, helping groom the team for this season and beyond.
Sophomore Hailey Gaydos and junior Menna Majdoub will also play a big role from a production and leadership standpoint this season.
Protecting the next is a pair of sophomores who are learning the position on the fly. Isabella Marocchini has assumed the starting varsity position and Riley Sullivan is filling in as needed while learning the ropes at the JV level.
The team fell to Conard and Hall last week, putting the team in an 0-3 hole.
But as Grubin pointed out, each game is a learning experience for the developing club, “We have an appreciation that we can be out here. We have a manta that we say before and after practice ‘let’s be aggressive, let’s be relentless, no fear of losing or making mistake and that we never give up’. We’re just so grateful to be out here.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin