By Nick Curcuru
---- — MANCHESTER— The Manchester Essex field hockey team came in to the 2012 season with a chip on its shoulder.
Most teams would be happy with a 10-5-5 record and a trip to the Division 2 North Quarter Finals as the Hornets did in 2011. Manchester Essex, however, holds itself to a very high standard.
While a fairly inexperienced Hornets team qualified for the postseason in 2011, the team was not satisfied with the result, as it marked the first time in 9 seasons that they did not make it to at least the Division 2 North Semi’s.
Fast forward to 2012 and a Hornets team returning the vast majority of its starters from 2011 has wreaked havoc on the Cape Ann League, posting a 9-0 record and dominating foes from both the large and small divisions.
At the midway point of the season Manchester Essex has been scoring on opponents and preventing them from scoring at an alarming rate outscoring opponents by a 32-6 margin.
The red hot start has the Hornets at the top of the CAL and looking like a legitimate player in the Division 2 North race once again.
“Last year we weren’t satisfied,” Senior captain Kelsi Field said. “I think our experience has helped us a lot this year. The mentality of the seniors has been great, we really want to win this year.”
Fellow senior captain and Hornets goalie Maddi Bistrong echoed her sentiment.
“We have such a positive attitude this season and everyone wants to win,” the Hornets net minder said. “We’re ready to put in the work and do anything it takes to win. It’s our senior year and this is it for us, we are ready for anything.”
The Hornets have certainly put in the work this season and this offseason. According to Bistrong the team’s chemistry was solidified over the summer where she, Field and fellow senior captain Nicole Bradley held captains practices and team meetings periodically throughout the offseason.
As a result Manchester Essex entered the 2012 season ready to play and it has shown, as the team has been firing on all cylinders since day one.
“This is an experienced team and it’s great to know that they are able to pick themselves up without me having to tell them to do so,” Hornets head coach Andrea Slaven said. “Sure we need a timeout every once in a while but they can recognize when they’re not playing their best. They know how their teammates play and they all want to work together to improve.
This team makes every day count, they make sure they don’t leave anything behind, they don’t leave any regrets and they set goals for each game and even each practice.”
Manchester Essex has already bested CAL Small rivals Lynnfield and Ipswich along with one of the top teams in the CAL Large in Newburyport. In out of conference play the Hornets also picked up a key 4-0 shutout win over Bishop Fenwick, a team that they could definitely meet come state tournament time.
It all starts on the defensive end for Manchester Essex, as Bistrong and the defense have allowed two goals just once all season while compiling five shutouts. Ivy Silag-Stearns and Sarah Beckmann along with midfielders Taylor Meek and Megan Jones have helped the Hornets allow under one goal per game this fall.
According to Field, a forward, the team’s success starts at the back end.
“The defense has really been strong this year, especially Maddi,” Field said. “There’s lots of strong communication with the defense and the forwards. If it doesn’t start with them making plays on defense and moving the ball up the field we can’t score.”
The Hornets are certainly no one-trick pony either as they can put the ball in the back of the net on any defense.
That high powered offense was on display in Tuesday’s home win over Triton where four different Hornets combined to score seven goals.
Anna Heffernan led the way with three goals while Bradley chipped in two. Paige Zeval and Brittany Smith also put in goals for Manchester Essex. Smith, a junior, leads the team in scoring just as she did in 2011 but she has had plenty of help.
“It’s so hard to pinpoint just a few players who have helped us this year because we are so deep,” Slaven said. “Even our players off the bench have been key contributors. But it starts with our three senior captains, they have been great leaders and their attitude has rubbed off on the rest of the team.”
The Hornets have set lofty goals for themselves this season, and if they keep playing with the precision and intensity they have shown for the first half of the season, Slaven and company could not only reach their goals, but surpass them.