Entering its second year as a program, the San Benito High field hockey team promises to make opponents pay if any of them takes it lightly.
“No one will look down on us—I promise you that,” senior goalie Cassidy Aalgaard said. “This year I expect the team to have a better record, no doubt. And even if we don’t have a better record, we’ll put up a better fight in every match.”
Last year, the Haybalers went 3-10 overall and 3-6 in the Monterey Bay League, suffering fewer blowout losses than most first-year high school programs. When the 2015 season ended, the players who would be returning knew they had to continue to play in the off-season for the team to make a quantum leap up the standings this season.
And that’s exactly what the Balers’ core group did, as Aalgaard, senior midfielder/forward Kourtney Carmichael, senior Brittney Kim, senior Corissa King, sophomore Railyn King and junior Olivia Gonzales played for Futures, which is USA Field Hockey’s Olympic Development Program.
“Even for the girls who didn’t play, they kept in shape and made improvements,” Aalgaard said. “There is a huge difference compared to last year. We’re basically doing everything better. Our hitting is much stronger, we’re more accurate with our shots, we’re communicating well as a team and we have better stamina.”
Indeed, Balers coach Tessa Chapman said all of the players lowered their mile times, with some girls shaving minutes off their previous best.
“Everyone is probably in their best shape ever since last year,” Chapman said in an email response to the Free Lance. “This season is going to be incredible. We have been on the field since June 13 and going hard. Two weeks of hard conditioning during the dead period of all sports.“
In addition to the returning players who played for Futures, other athletes who are expected to contribute in a significant way include junior midfielder Karina Collins and sophomores Sarah Meza and Samantha Bloom. Chapman said Carmichael is passionate about the game, a great listener and guides the younger players.
Chapman and Carmichael said the team’s chemistry is much improved from a year ago.
“This year there hasn’t been any cliques of any kind, which is odd to say,” Carmichael said. “We’ve bonded more as a team—we’re all friends so that’s been really interesting.”
Said Chapman: “This year you will see more connectivity and more collaboration within the team—(a) closer knit team.”
Aalgaard has always been motivated to improve, with a high-energy motor that keeps her working hard. Bloom reads situations well on the field, and consistently moves the ball, while Collins possesses a positive attitude and drive that every team needs to be successful.
Chapman has beefed up the coaching staff with the addition of Molly Macierz and volunteer coach Shae Walker, who has run multiple marathons and 50-mile ultra-marathons with the goal of completing a 100-miler in the future. Walker helps the team with conditioning and stretching, and Macierz has been a great asset to the team because of her experience playing the game.
Macierz, who also serves as the junior varsity coach, was a standout player at Los Gatos High before playing the goalie position for three years at University of the Pacific in Stockton.
“Coach Molly has helped me get better in many ways,” Aalgaard said. “I’m able to stay in longer (in goal) and handle shots a lot more.”
Aalgaard has been getting a great education in goal, as she’s played in several camps in the last year, including a San Jose State camp in which a Cal player drilled a shot that left Aalgaard with a pretty nice welt.
“My leg pad was there, but as I moved over, it exposed my thigh,” she said. “The ball hit right where there was no padding, and it left a huge bruise. It hurt, but the mark it left was pretty awesome looking.”
The Monterey Bay League has one division for field hockey, and the opponents on San Benito High’s league schedule include Monterey, North Salinas, York, Stevenson, Notre Dame-Salinas, Carmel, Gilroy, Christopher and Greenfield.
All but one of those teams started field hockey programs before San Benito’s, making the challenge all the more tough. However, the Balers feel their improvements have closed the gap on the rest of the league.
“The girls are so pumped up and focused,” Chapman said. “Of course we want more wins than losses, but we have to stay focused and work as one team.”
Carmichael said the team has improved simply by virtue of experience. Most of the players on the team a year ago were playing field hockey for the very first time, and everything—from the penalty calls to the uniforms to the equipment—was new to them.
However, a year of experience has forged a stronger, more cohesive unit that is confident it can shake things up in the MBL.
“Skill-wise we’re better all around,” Carmichael said. “We can control the ball better, and we have a better idea what to do in game situations.”
The Balers had trouble scoring goals last season, but Carmichael expects a surge in offense this year.
“I see Kaitlyn Tedesco and Karina Collins as top scorers,” she said. “Karina can out-run anyone, and Katelyn can put the ball in the net.”
Said Chapman: “Katelyn has been on range for shooting and being (and assisting). (She is) fast.”
Carmichael added the King sisters bring an extra dimension because they’re competitive with one another, raising each other’s level of play.
“They don’t argue, but there’s definitely competition,” Carmichael said. “And that’s a good thing.”
Carmichael added she’s improved her defensive game, having gotten more comfortable during in-match situations.
“I how to read the field,” she said. “I know not to chase after the ball and just play smarter.”
Instead of being the chasers, the Balers hope they’ll be in control and have opposing teams chasing them.