NANUET – It’s hard to look at a team that won just three games last year and has graduated four starters, three of whom had played for three seasons, and think this year could be a good one.
It’s hard, but not impossible with Nanuet.
The Golden Knights, after all, are bringing up reinforcements from a 10-win junior varsity team, and that includes the JV’s leading scorer from last year, junior Jess Kleber.
She just has a knack, varsity coach Jackie Cross said, of always having a “very good angle on the ball” and being in the right spot to tip shots in.
While Nanuet’s varsity did certainly struggle to a 3-12-3 mark that ended in a 9-0 drubbing by Rye in the first round of sectional, Cross said, “We said all year that our record didn’t show how we played.”
Cross expects better things from her players and said she’s more confident now, entering her second year at the helm.
“A whole group of 10 seniors is back. Last year we were often lacking the teamwork dynamic. I think we have that this year,” said Cross, a former Nanuet player who graduated in 2005 and now teaches Spanish at the high school.
Shauna McNamara, a senior and three-year varsity player, likes her team’s chemistry.
She plays club field hockey for the New Jersey-based Rapid Fire Elite. That’s a higher-level team from her high school squad. But McNamara still gets a lot out of playing for Nanuet, saying, “Being on a high school team is not something you can replicate. High school sports are so different.”
She’s certainly invested in the Golden Knights. She referred to the team’s 1-0 loss to highly favored Pearl River two years ago at sectionals as “devastating,” and said it proved to be a double blow when then-longtime coach Karen Leitner told the team afterward that she wouldn’t return for 2015.
McNamara said she has friends who have won huge titles with their New Jersey private schools but added, “I don’t think they have the connection we do (with each other).”
Fellow senior Corinne Berkery, who has played four years on varsity but wants to pursue softball in college, played in Nanuet field hockey’s only sectional-game win in its history. But that one made it “such a special year,” she said.
Berkery indicated last season was difficult due to the coaching change and a hard schedule.
“This year I think we’ll be better. I’m hoping for better,” she said. “I think with older players and everyone more experienced learning to look for other girls (to pass to), we will get more shots on goal. This year, we’re going to focus on finishing and using our passes.”
Berkery is the team’s top free-hit player and its go-to person off corners, since she can absolutely rocket the ball.
During Thursday morning’s practice, many of her shots ended up flying over the shoulders of sophomore goalie Jenna Franchino. Franchino probably has an edge in the competition for the No. 1 one goalie spot over junior Erin Ierace, since Franchino played at the end of the season when Nanuet’s then-starter went down with an injury.
Some of Nanuet’s strongest players will be on defense, including seniors Shauna McNamara and Caeleigh Ryan. Senior Jess Haney, a strong midfielder, returns to that position.
Cross, who’s being assisted by 2010 Nanuet grad Christine Stokes, is hoping for solid offense from two returning junior wings, Vianne Palad and Taylor Rosenfeld.
Of last year’s team, she said. “I think they pushed through to the end. If we were down three goals, they played like it was 0-0.”
Cross isn’t making promises but said fans could “expect a lot of effort and commitment and endurance, explaining some of that was “emotional endurance,” being willing to fight through the season.
Still, she left the door open to even better things.
This year, in a small league without the likes of North Rockland, Suffern and Clarkstown South but with Nyack, Pearl River and Sleep Hollow as the Golden Knights’ opponents, she said winning the league is “definitely in the realm of possibility.
“I think it will fall into place,” McNamara added. “I think we have a strong chance to have over a .500 record. I think the drive is there.”