GHS field hockey head coach Maureen Perkins with her three senior players, Mikayla Balatbat to her left and Alicia Choquette and Leila Espirito-Santo to her right, prior to the Guardians semifinal game against Darien at Amity High School on Nov. 15.
Glastonbury field hockey head coach Maureen Perkins had only three seniors on her roster this season, yet Guardians still advanced to the semifinals in the state tourney for a second straight season.
Perkins credited the selfishness of the team for the deep run.
“What I really liked is that they worked hard all the time,” stated Perkins. “They learned how to work together, because I think they understood that in order for us to be successful we can’t rely on just one person. It really was a group effort.”
After making the semifinal round a season ago, Perkins graduated what she called an “influential” senior class that featured standouts Molly Harding, Kaitlyn Welsh, Christiana Guanci, and goalie Kaitlyn Parent.
Because of the key departures, the veteran coach of over two decades wasn’t sure what the product on the field would look like. What Perkins found out was that her returning seniors assumed the leadership void and the other players filled in admirably.
“We had several new kids playing and even our kids that were returning were playing new positions,” she stated. “We had to figure stuff out as we went. As the season went on, we all worked together, and I was really happy to see that.”
Seniors Alicia Choquette, Mikayla Balatbat, and Leila Espirito-Santo were Perkins’ eyes and ears on the field, leading the young team and producing on the stat sheet.
Choquette led the team in both goals (15) and assists (12). Balatbat dished out seven assists, which was second on the team, and Espirito-Santo added seven goals.
Perkins said the trio wasn’t particularly vocal as juniors, but she saw them develop that voice early in this fall.
“As the season went on, they got more comfortable at being more vocal and really started helping the younger kids understand what we needed to do,” added Perkins. “They have always led by example and one of the things that I like about all three of them is that they have always work hard.”
Replacing Parent, who is playing collegiately at Southern Connecticut State University, was junior Alex Edwards. Perkins said that Edwards got better with each passing game and by the end of the season was in full command of the defensive end.
“She got more confident, and she got more vocal,” Perkins said of her first-year goalie. “She took charge of the circle to made sure people were marking the way they were supposed to and that everyone was doing their job.”
Perkins recalled Edwards as being “spectacular” during the semifinal loss to Darien, making 28 saves.
“She was absolutely awesome,” added Perkins. “She was agile, quick, vocal, decisive, and mentally strong. All of the things you look for in a goalie.”
During the regular season, the Guardian won 13 of 16 games, beating all 11 Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) opponents to win the CCC-South.
In the tourney, they blanked Norwalk (2-0) and Hall (4-0) in the first two rounds before losing 5-0 to a Darien team that finished the season undefeated and would advance to defeat Wilton 4-0 in the state championship game.
“Darien is a machine; it’s so impressive,” recalled Perkins. “It’s impressive to watch it and when you play against it, it would be easy to just quit, but the team never quit, and I think that is another thing about them that I am really proud of.”
Once the dust had settled on the season, the young Guardians has finished No. 7 in the Connecticut Field Hockey Coaches Poll, beating four ranked teams in Hall, Farmington, Wethersfield, and Southington this fall.
A tough tourney draw has strung the Guardians in each of the last two years. In both seasons, GHS has been eliminated in the semifinal round by undefeated teams that combined for a record of 42-0 and each would win the state championship after beating Glastonbury. A year ago, the Guardians fell to a nationally ranked New Canaan team in the semifinal round.
With a majority her starter returning next fall, Perkins hopes the experience the players gained this year will pay dividends next fall.
Key returning starters on offense will be Allyson Collette, who scored nine goals this fall as a junior, along with freshman Deidre McKiernan (seven goals) and sophomore Addison Infante (seven assists).
Edwards will be back in goal after posting 11 shutouts this season.
“It always helps that we have a lot of kids coming back and now they know what our program is all about,” stated Perkins. “I’m really exciting to see where a lot of those kids will be in August when we come back together.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin