Building a winning field hockey program is tough. Doing so after you’ve lost nine seniors is even tougher.
And in leading a program that has only six wins in the past two seasons, Louisa varsity head coach Meredith Williamson might just have the toughest job in the school’s athletic program.
There’s no question the Lady Lions are facing a rebuilding project this season. With just five seniors heading into this year, the smallest class in recent memory, Williamson said the pressure will be on the few upperclassmen she has to lead the charge into a new era.
“It’s going to be hard to fill their shoes,” Williamson said of the graduated 12 seniors from last season. “But, we have a couple really strong players who have played for a few years that will step up. They’re going to have to be this team’s core.”
Louisa’s front line was intended to be the core last year, but poor ball control in the middle of the field meant little action for Louisa’s forwards for most of what ended up being a 2-15 season.
This year, the Lady Lions return two-time All-District selection Skylar Reed along with fellow seniors Jesse Lane and Ashley Monday, who are expected to play as midfielders for the team. With experience and athleticism to boot, the trio’s return signals that the 2014 season will feature a new core, a new strategy and, hopefully, better results.
“Before, we had a really strong offensive line, but now my strength is in the middle of the field,” Williamson said. “We have speed up front, but not experience. By functioning around a very strong center of the field, hopefully, we’ll stretch the field and be able to score from both sides.”
Expect to see Reed and Lane lined up beside each other for most of Louisa’s games. Williamson’s hope is that the duo will be able to quickly navigate the ball from side-to-side and towards a smaller, but more effective, front line. Monday is expected to join the two, and is likely to see some time on the back line as well.
What Louisa fans won’t see this season is Kelsey Stanley at goal, which creates a major void for the Lady Lions. Now playing at Randolph-Macon College, Stanley set the Virginia High School League state record for saves in a career with 405, and made 351 of those saves in the 2013 season alone. With Louisa’s youth along the back line, playing goalie for the Lady Lions takes not just guts, but endurance.
Enter sophomore Ikea Burkett. Like Stanley, Burkett got the nod as a starter at the position for the junior varsity team before being called up.
“Kelsey will be really hard to replace,” Williamson said. “Ikea has stepped up to the challenge though. She’s really positive and a really good goalie.”
Though Williamson said her young backstop needs to improve her footwork, it seems her attitude is already in top condition.
“I love her positivity,” Williamson. “It’s really easy to work with her. She takes criticism really well. She turns it into something constructive, and she never
And though surrounded by youth – 15 of the program’s 32 players are freshmen – Williamson said the few upperclassmen she has have taken over critical leadership roles. She’s hoping to cash that camaraderie in for victories down the road.
“The seniors have stepped up to the plate and gone above and beyond what I expected them to do,” Williamson said. “I can’t coach that. I can’t teach that. I can’t force them to want to do that. They’ve taken it upon themselves.”