Whenever Kate Windett gave her field hockey team five minutes to cut loose before games, Tiara Duffy’s go-to move was the worm.
But the quiet Cape Henlopen senior defender says she didn’t need the impromptu dance party to calm her nerves. Just like she insists she doesn’t need the wealth of accolades, either. Or even realize they’re well-deserved.
“I guess I’m really hard on myself,” Duffy said, “so I don’t notice when I do things right, but other people do and I don’t expect them to. It’s just surprising.”
Duffy was voted the Delaware field hockey player of the year by state coaches this season, plus earned recognition as a regional All-American and second-team All-American by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association.
But she may never play the game again.
Duffy plans to play only softball in college and said she’s considering attending South Carolina, East Carolina or Coastal Carolina because she enjoys that area of the country. The 17-year-old star outfielder, who drove in the go-ahead run against Puerto Rico in the championship game of the Big League Softball World Series this past summer, has played softball since she was 4 years old and said she only picked up field hockey in fifth grade at the request of a friend.
“I just like softball better because it’s more challenging than hockey and it’s more of a mental game,” Duffy said. “It’s more fun, I think.”
Duffy has started for the Cape Henlopen field hockey team since the state playoffs of her freshman year, when the Vikings last suffered an in-state loss, falling 1-0 to Sussex Tech in the 2010 semifinals.
Cape Henlopen has since won three consecutive DIAA state championships, beating Delmar in the finals each time, and defeated 51 consecutive Delaware opponents.
“She definitely protects her goalkeeper very well,” Delmar coach Jodi Hollamon said.
“She stands usually in the backfield and makes some solid runs up the field two or three times a game and usually makes something happen when she does that. She has very low block tackles and is very hard to eliminate because of her size and quickness. And her speed is deceiving because of her size.”
Duffy had three goals, 11 assists and four defensive saves this season, helping Cape Henlopen to an 18-0-1 record.
Last year, she scored in the state championship game, a 2-1 victory.
The state player of the year award is an unusual honor for someone who plays defense.
“I was really surprised,” Duffy said. “I thought there were a bunch of players in the state that would get it instead of me, and I play defense, so I didn’t think anyone would nominate me for it because I don’t do much, unless it’s a big game.
“I guess when there were big games that coaches saw that I try really hard and I play well when I have to and step up.”
“I’ve never seen a defender get it. But she’s not a typical defender,” said Windett, the Cape Henlopen coach. “It’s hard to miss her. She’s not a small girl you’re going to miss. She’s a force. At most schools, she would not be a center back, but that’s just where we needed her. … We’re hoping we can convince her to play hockey and softball somewhere, but we’ll see how that goes.”
Duffy said she enjoyed playing field hockey but is looking forward to her final high school season of softball and focusing on that sport in college.
She admits it’s difficult, at times, to think about leaving field hockey behind for good.
“I really miss it more than I thought I would,” Duffy said, recalling Cape Henlopen’s most recent state championship. “It’s kind of sad that might have been my last game. But at least it ended well.”