Back coaching North Shore’s field hockey program after a one-year hiatus, Kelley Huggins said early morning practices on the turf was one of the reasons for the Vikings’ success.
“The girls had limited offseason work but they really embraced the early practices and were focused all season long,” Huggins said after North Shore completed a 9-win campaign with a hard-fought 1-0 double-overtime loss at Port Washington on April 9. “It was a different experience playing in March and April instead of September and October, but it was just nice to get back on the field,” she added.
As to not compete with the soccer teams or football for afternoon practice time on the turf, Huggins shifted gears to a 6:15 a.m. start. “We had short, intense practices until 7:45,” she said. “It worked out well. Some of the girls went right to school afterwards and the remote learners went home and got ready for classes.”
The Vikings (9-3) carried 28 in the program this spring and have a large core of underclassmen. “We focused on our passing game and doing the simple things well,” Huggins noted. “I couldn’t have asked for more from them. It was a great season.”
The team enjoyed a six-game winning streak from March 18-April 3, including a pair of 3-0 wins over a Clarke team that’s always competitive, Huggins said. Junior midfielder Emma Nelson scored in both games and sophomore goaltender Kate Conklin totaled 22 saves.
Conklin played defense last season but was pressed into goalie duties due to unforeseen circumstances. “She played awesome,” Huggins said. “She has quick reflexes, strong clears and a strong voice.”
Nelson, who plays a solid two-way game and has some of the best stickwork on the team, was part of a deep midfield group. She had 4 goals and 2 assists. “She sees the field well and knows where to go with the ball,” Huggins said. Senior middie Casey Colbert (team-high 8 goals, 4 assists) was a constant offensive threat and displayed a nifty touch around the net, while sophomore Grace Ledden (3 goals, 2 assists) brought a burst of energy to the midfield and forward spots.
Freshman Hannah Gilliam enjoyed a big season as a defensive midfielder and brought a tremendous work ethic and skill set, Huggins said. “She plays with a lot of poise,” the coach said.
Sophomore forward Daniela Martini made quite an impact as well, scoring 4 goals and pacing the team in assists with 7. “She’s great working the sideline and on give-and-gos,” Huggins said of Martini, who scored twice and assisted on two others to lead a season-opening win over Great Neck South.
The defense in front of Conklin was anchored by senior McKenzie Johanson, an experienced player who had a breakout season according to Huggins. “She stepped up her game and was one of our leaders,” she said.