On her way to obliterating the South Plainfield High School field hockey program’s career points mark in just one year and to setting the Middlesex County single-season scoring and points record, Caity Hughes also demonstrated her unselfishness.
After recording a hat trick on Senior Day against Cranford, Hughes needed one more goal in that game to set South Plainfield’s single-season scoring record, but the junior forward kept passing up wide-open chances to set upperclassmen up for opportunities.
“Instead of taking a shot, she was dishing it off to them,” South Plainfield head coach Melissa Szeliga recalled of the win over Cranford, after which Hughes would set the new standard. “She wanted them to get their moment rather than her score another goal.”
A converted varsity soccer player who paced the Tigers in scoring on the pitch as a freshman, Hughes tallied 41 goals and 11 assists in field hockey for 93 points this year, 14 more than her sister Shannon and former star Meaghan Schweers each posted during their stellar four-year careers.
“For Caity to break (those records) was a huge deal,” Szeliga said of Hughes, the Home News Tribune’s 2015 Field Hockey Player of the Year. “The fact that this was only her second season (playing field hockey) was absolutely amazing.”
Hughes, who has lettered in four varsity sports including basketball and softball (All-Greater Middlesex Conference White Division), relied on her athleticism and speed to post record-setting numbers for a South Plainfield program with a storied history that has been among Middlesex County’s most consistent.
She is the youngest of three siblings — including middle sister Meghan, who is a senior at South Plainfield, and older sister Shannon, who currently plays for Rider University — to star for South Plainfield field hockey.
Caity appears to be following in the footsteps of her mother, Cheryl Bullock Hughes, who was inducted into Kean University’s athletics Hall of Fame in 2000 after starring at the school in field hockey and softball from 1988-92.
“Her focus is softball,” Szeliga said of Caity. “That’s her thing. This is something she wanted to do. She doesn’t play club. She doesn’t really do camps on the outside. All the success she is getting is through the high school practices and things that we can give her during the fall.”
After scoring 11 goals as a sophomore last season, Caity, who has 123 career points, realized she had potential and, according to Szelgia, “kind of got the (field hockey) bug.”
Only seven players in the entire state scored more goals this season than Hughes, who shattered Schweers’ previous single-season school record of 32 goals and broke former Piscataway star Carly Campana’s previous single-season county mark of 37 goals (Campana went on to star at Delaware and is now the head field hockey coach at Towson University).
“She knew this was one thing she could be good at,” Szeliga said. “She worked really hard this summer getting in shape. Our program places a lot of emphasis on conditioning. Last year she relied mainly on her speed. Now she’s using dodges and (stick) skills to evade defenders.”
In a regular-season game against reigning sectional champion Bridgewater-Raritan, Hughes gained possession of the ball near midfield and, with it at her stick, made an almost 50-yard run, deking defenders before beating the netminder one-on-one in a goal that epitomized her development.
As the 2015 campaign unfolded, Hughes was frequently double- or even triple-teamed.
“ ‘People are going to know your name and know it quickly,’ ” Szeliga recalled telling Hughes early in the season. “At some point (there was) so much pressure on her because her teammates were relying on her to score. It looked like it came easy to her. It was almost like she could do it on command. It was scary to see. She just really stepped out of her shell and gained confidence in herself. Her speed alone is such (an asset) for her to have. She was able to beat (opponents) in a foot race.”
Szeliga said opposing teams always bring their best for South Plainfield, making it more difficult for Hughes and her teammates.
“Every team shows up to play us,” Szeliga said. “When they come to play South Plainfield, emotions are high physically and mentally — at least that’s what it feels like when we play against them.”
The Tigers finished with an 18-5-3 record including a 2-0 loss to Monroe — an opponent against which it split a regular-season series — in the conference tournament final. The team’s other losses were to state powers Bridgewater-Raritan (North 2 Group IV champion), Summit (North 2 Group III champion) and Voorhees (North 2 Group II finalist).
Hughes accounted for more than 50 percent of South Plainfield’s scoring and made teammates around her better players.
“We were lucky,” Szeliga said. “Because of Caity’s scoring ability, my entire forward line — and even mids — were offensively driven. There was great flow between all of them.”
Szeliga said she knows Hughes’ “heart is in softball, but I think if she wanted to, she could absolutely play hockey in college.”
“Her speed alone, athleticism and ability to be able to pick things up and want to do it better the next time,” Szeliga cited as reasons Hughes could excel at the next level. “She needs to increase some of her stick skills and things like that. I think a college coach is able to fine-tune those things.
“If you give her the tools, she’ll take it and run.”
(As selected by GMC coaches)
Allison Parrett GK, Old Bridge; Rachel Degrity CM, East Brunswick; Caity Hughes CF, South Plainfield; Grace Martini F, Monroe; Danielle Gallagher F, South Brunswick; Maya Gulliksen CM, Piscataway; Marykate Kersting CB, Sayreville; Alison Bansil CB, Metuchen; Ashlyn Petersen RF, Monroe; Meghan Hughes DCM, South Plainfield; Asia Buffaloe CF, Piscataway; Hayley Daniels LW, Metuchen; Sydney Huang Attack, East Brunswick; Nicole Goitiandia RB, South Plainfield; Janell Harden Center Back, Old Bridge; Zoe Rosen GK, Monroe; Nicole Zultowsi RW, South Plainfield.
Aroamma Cacea CM, Old Bridge; Kara Helsby Back, East Brunswick; Rochelle Podolsky RW, East Brunswick; Josie Pagano D, Monroe; Gigi Powers D, South Brunswick; Kavya Sreeram GK, South Brunswick; Imanni Reeves DCM, Piscataway; Allison Attardi CM, Sayreville; Ashley Edwards RW, Sayreville; Megan Polomene GK, Sayreville; Emily Glutz CF/CM, Metuchen; Grace Dice RW, Metuchen; Callie Luftnig S, East Brunswick.
Player of the Year: Grace Martini, Monroe
Offensive Player of the Year: Caity Hughes, South Plainfield
Defensive Player of the Year: Zoe Rosen, Monroe
Coach of the Year: Cindy Botett, Piscataway
Coach of the Year: Sarah Cummings, Monroe