Zoe Kleeblatt, Emily Karwic, Summer Mitchell, Meaghan Murphy, Molly Bowers, and Kate Anzidei will help lead WHS field hockey this fall
Senior Zoe Kleeblatt has developed into a multiple sport, all-conference player, as well as a terrific teammate and mentor during her time at Wethersfield High School.
Kleeblatt’s steady growth has corresponded with the rise of the field hockey program, which enters the 2019 season following back-to-back tournament appearances.
“It’s my last year playing, so I have to give it my all,” said Kleeblatt, who also stars on the softball fields in the spring, “I got more experience as a junior last season and I’ve had that leadership role over the years, which has helped.”
Since 2016, head coach Colleen Budaj has used Kleeblatt in a variety of roles and credited her senior captain for being adaptable, “ We have her playing different positions and I think one of the nice things about her is we can ask her to drop back on defense if we’re up a goal or we can say we need you to fly up top. Right now, we’re training her to play three different positions base on the need on the field. She’s willing to do that, which is important”
Kleeblatt and her fellow seniors have witnessed the team’s win total increase in each of the last three seasons. From a pair of wins in 2016, to a handful in 2017, to nine last fall.
2017 and 2018 ended in the opening round of the tournament and naturally the next step is a tourney victory, and possibly more.
“We’ve talk about not just making the tournament, but also hosting a tournament game. We want to win one and advance this year,” said Budaj, who express November’s goal to the the players and parent, “[The school] host the state tournament every year and we don’t just want to cook, we want to play. That’s got to be our ultimate goal, get as close as we can to that final game.”
Budaj has an experience senior class, led by Kleeblatt.
Emily Karwic, Summer Mitchell, Meaghan Murphy, Clarissa Nock, and newcomer Isabella Samse round out the rest of a class.
The six seniors plan on making their final season the best one yet.
“We’re more excited and I think we’re better this year,” stated Karwic, “We know what we’re after so we’re looking to go further this year.”
“I’ve been playing with these girls since freshman year and we’re all really good friends, both on and off the field, so I’ve been really excited to get this season going because we really want it this year,” added Murphy.
Mitchell joked that the team might be spending too much time together, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a team where I’ve felt more involved, maybe we have too much chemistry.”
Karwic, Mitchell, and Murphy create a fierce triangle on the defensive end.
“I think we have a strong defensive team. It’s all the same girls I played with last season and I think we’re really proud of the team chemistry we have and what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Murphy.
Last year the defenders where protecting the crease for goalie Anna Kallajian, who was one of two departing graduates.
Replacing Kallajian will be young a pair of young netminders, sophomore Julia Peacock and freshman Veronica McKenna.
“Julia came to us without a lot of field hockey knowledge but she was a soccer goalie so that has translated into what she is doing here. Veronica has played in goal in the feeder program, so she’s definitely got some experience as well,” said Budaj.
Budaj returns all of her starting field players from a season ago, including Lorien Touponse, who made all-conference as a sophomore.
Junior Kate Anzidei and sophomore Molly Bowers are coming off productive 2018 seasons. They both credited the current senior class for welcoming them with open arms.
“They’re always so helpful and kind. Whenever someone is struggling with the skills they will try and help them and say really nice things. We also try and pick each other up, which is one of the things that I’ve learned from them,” said Anzidei, who will be playing point this season, “It’s an adjustment but is also fun because it’s a new way for us to attack upfield.”
Bowers added that the seniors made her transition from youth field hockey to high school an easy one last fall, “They’ve all willing to give really great advice and we love coming to practice because everyone is willing to help each other out even though it’s competitive. We motivate each other every day and we’re all really competitive in a good way.”
Budaj praised Bowers for already assuming a leadership role and for her quick learning curve, “Molly is running the center of the field for us, we’ve put a lot of her shoulder. We need her to have as many touches as possible.”
The veteran coach is also excited about the team’s depth, which includes vocal leader Logan Lisella and Samse, who joins the team after making a name for herself on the cross country and basketball teams the past three seasons at WHS.
“She’s never played a stick sport before, so this is totally new to her. She has the innate aggressiveness and she understands what it takes from playing the other sports. She’s the kid that will thrown herself at the sport.”
The experience, chemistry, and depth are all in place. Now it’s time for the Eagles to take flight once the tourney roles around.
Budaj and her assistant, husband Steve Budaj, added new alignments as season ago and have even more wrinkles for the upcoming season.
“We have different attack strategies for when we’re up and when we’re down and we have to approach each game with a different strategy depending on who we are playing. Before we weren’t necessarily doing that, we were playing just to survive.”
The Budaj’s reclamation of the program is showing up on the scoreboard and in the overall play on the field.
“They’re more willing now to give the ball up ball up because they know they’re going to get it back. Before we were just hitting it without poise or without purpose but now they’re stringing more passes together. Our attack isn’t just from the right, our attack is strong from the left. We have our strongest players in a diamond across the field so we can attack from the left too.”
2019 got off to a great start, defeating Lewis Mills 4-0 last Friday behind goals from Touponse, Nock, Sydney Budaj, and Kathryn Bello. Peacock registered the shutout in first start in goal.
The game was the first of three straight on the road for the traveling Eagles, who now host the next six at Cottone Field, starting Monday, Sept 23 against E.O. Smith (3:45 pm).
“I think we have to get a couple of those road wins under our belt. If you can get some of those earlier on it takes some of the pressure off in those later games and it could help us get a home playoff game.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin