Washington field hockey fights on as champions

Un­der the radar: Des­pite not get­ting a ton of re­cog­ni­tion, the G.W. field hockey team still man­aged to win a Pub­lic League title in 2012. PHOTO COUR­TESY KATHY PAUL / WASH­ING­TON ATH­LET­ICS

— After a near-per­fect sea­son, the G.W. field hockey team hopes the sport spreads in the North­east.

At George Wash­ing­ton High School, the highly suc­cess­ful foot­ball and boys soc­cer pro­grams tend to grab the most head­lines when it comes to fall sports.

After all, Ron Co­hen would need three hands to count the num­ber of cham­pi­on­ships he’s won as the long-time foot­ball coach, and Chris Re­id’s soc­cer squads are usu­ally en­sconced atop the Pub­lic League stand­ings.

But when the fall sports sea­son ended, neither the Eagles’ foot­ball or soc­cer pro­grams had won cham­pi­on­ships. In­stead, it was an­oth­er team — girls’ field hockey — that brought home the title. 

 “We’re not as re­cog­nized as the oth­er sports,” seni­or cap­tain Tiana Fluck said bluntly.

“It does get frus­trat­ing, hav­ing the sea­son we had, and still only get­ting one line in the pa­per,” ad­ded Liz Miller, an­oth­er seni­or cap­tain.

Des­pite a 14-3 over­all sea­son — in­clud­ing a per­fect 12-0 mark in the six-school Pub­lic League — that cul­min­ated in a league cham­pi­on­ship, fight­ing for head­lines is noth­ing new for field hockey play­ers in the North­east, or any­where for that mat­ter.

In the fall, more main­stream sports — such as foot­ball and soc­cer — grab the most at­ten­tion, if for no oth­er reas­on than they are the most re­cog­niz­able and fa­mil­i­ar op­tions. 

And with­in this prob­lem lies an even big­ger one. For sports like foot­ball or soc­cer (base­ball, soft­ball and bas­ket­ball too), kids are sign­ing up to play at even earli­er ages. In­terest in the main­stream ath­let­ics is con­stant, but not so much for a sport like field hockey. Since not as many people are aware of it as an op­tion for young, fe­male ath­letes, de­vel­op­ment in the sport starts much later on. Thus, there’s not enough at­ten­tion paid at the middle school level, where tra­di­tion­al feed­er pro­grams help pro­duce more pol­ished high school play­ers.

“In the Pub­lic League es­pe­cially, schools struggle to field teams and have long-term suc­cess due to lack of middle school ex­pos­ure and these feed­er schools,” said Kathy Paul, the second-year field hockey coach who also coaches G.W.’s girls bas­ket­ball and soft­ball teams. 

“If every school had one of these feed­er schools, more kids would be in­volved, thus mak­ing it more com­pet­it­ive. If they were in­tro­duced to it at an earli­er age, there’d be more Di­vi­sion I (col­lege) field hockey play­ers.” 

Paul gave cred­it to Pub­lic League sports head Robert Cole­man for keep­ing field hockey an op­tion, but prob­lems re­main. The Pub­lic League has just six act­ive teams — Wash­ing­ton, North­east, Cent­ral, Girls High, Frank­lin Towne Charter and Lin­coln — and to hear a frus­trated Paul tell it, that’s just “how it is in Pub­lic League field hockey. If they could get rid of it and spend the money some­where else, I’m sure they would.”

Of course, air­ing these frus­tra­tions of un­der­ex­pos­ure would im­ply that this Wash­ing­ton team didn’t en­joy its time to­geth­er, which couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. Led by Fluck, Miller and a third seni­or cap­tain, Bar­bara Dan­hardt, the Eagles were strong at the top. Those three were se­lec­ted to the All-Pub­lic team, as were ju­ni­or Jill­ian Laspee and sopho­mores Megan Elmer and Sarah Klein­brahm. 

They won every league game largely due to bal­ance (Salena Powers led with 12 goals, Dan­hardt had nine and three oth­er play­ers had five or more goals), depth (“de­fense played a huge role,” said Paul) and, most of all, to­geth­er­ness.

Fluck, a lacrosse play­er who didn’t take up field hockey un­til she was a sopho­more, said Miller and Dan­hardt im­me­di­ately ac­cep­ted her and took her un­der their wings.

“They nev­er pushed me away and were nev­er neg­at­ive to­ward me,” Fluck said. “It was a pos­it­ive en­vir­on­ment for my de­vel­op­ment, and it really made me want to be out there.”

Miller and Dan­hardt, whom Paul called her “Mini-Me’s,” are also soft­ball play­ers, but they took up field hockey and middle school and nev­er looked back.

“I hadn’t really heard of field hockey and I wanted to try something new,” Dan­hardt said. “I just ended up lik­ing the sport. It’s ag­gress­ive and re­quires you to be agile.”

After los­ing the 2011 cham­pi­on­ship game to North­east with un­der a minute to play, the Wash­ing­ton seni­ors ded­ic­ated them­selves even more, vow­ing to win one last cham­pi­on­ship as a group. (The Eagles ap­peared in the title game the last four years, win­ning two and los­ing two.) 

“Go­ing in­to this sea­son, we saw this as our chance,” Miller said.

Though a re­match with North­east wasn’t in the cards, the Eagles took care of Frank­lin Towne Charter in this sea­son’s title game. 

“Win­ning a cham­pi­on­ship your seni­or sea­son,” Dan­hardt said. “That’s just about the best thing that can hap­pen.”

Along the way, they also bon­ded off the field, selling T-shirts to raise money and aware­ness to­ward the fight against breast can­cer. Paul said there were 100 shirts cir­cu­lat­ing around school with­in a day or two, and the Eagles played a night con­test on Oct. 3 in which they handed out pink roses to re­l­at­ives and sur­viv­ors. The game it­self was ded­ic­ated to the moth­ers of play­ers Vic­tor­ia Bar­razza and Lind­say John­son, both of whom have been af­flic­ted by the dis­ease.

In a nut­shell, Paul wants people to know that “Field hockey is not a for­got­ten sport in the Pub­lic League, es­pe­cially for schools in the North­east.” The field hockey play­ers and coaches want to win just as badly as their foot­ball and soc­cer coun­ter­parts, even if some­times it seems like the suc­cess they en­joy is shrouded in secrecy.

“As a coach, I could not have hoped for a bet­ter sea­son,” Paul said. “My kids worked hard and pulled to­geth­er. This is a very spe­cial team, and I am happy the seni­ors will gradu­ate as cham­pi­ons and be able to re­mem­ber the per­fect sea­son.”

Of the three cap­tains, only Dan­hardt will play field hockey in col­lege (Fluck will play lacrosse, and Miller plans on join­ing the ROTC, per­haps at Drexel), but all three said they would re­mem­ber this ex­per­i­ence for the long haul. They also stressed their hope that more kids will look in­to field hockey as an op­tion when it’s time to choose a sport.

“You hang around like-minded people,” Fluck said. “Once you fall in­to a sport like field hockey, it doesn’t let go. For me, it opened some doors and al­lowed me to look at things a little bit dif­fer­ently, all while gain­ing a new fam­ily.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus