Pictured last season celebrating a shutout victory against Dover-Sherborn, Needham goaltender Cammy Foster (50) will be counted on once again in 2020, this time as a senior co-captain. Photo by Mike Flanagan.
By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Needham High School varsity field hockey is annually one of the top teams in the Bay State Conference. In 2019, the Rockets compiled a 12-3-3 regular season record to earn the No. 8 seed in the Division I South playoffs. The Rockets defeated No. 9 Canton (1-0) in the first round before falling to eventual state champ Somerset-Berkley (3-0) in the quarterfinals.
Rather than focus their attention on making it further into the postseason in 2020, Needham field hockey enters the season with the main goal being just simply have a season. After months of not being able to participate in organized athletics due to COVID-19, the Rockets will be given the chance to play this fall on a limited schedule. There will not be a postseason, and the format has shifted from 11-on-11 field hockey to seven-on-seven to better abide by COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
"It's a completely different game," said Needham head coach Steph Magni on the changes made for the upcoming season. "I think the benefit to us is that we have a very fast team, so I think that'll play to our advantage a little bit. But at the same time, the seven-on-seven is all pretty much sprint up the field and get gassed and then sub out. So, it's definitely going to be different for us and it's going to be hard to manage subs. When you're playing 11-on-11, it's very positional. You've got your forwards, midfielders and defense. But seven-on-seven is going to force all of our players to play a lot of different roles. So, we're going to have to work on that and make those adjustments. I definitely plan to sub more. It's one of those situations where we've had to play seven-on-seven in the postseason because that's the overtime format. In the past, we've had our starters out there and constantly had subs ready for them. We are going to have that next line ready to go, kind of like how they change in ice hockey, where it's a 'next-line-up' mentality on every rush. It's going to be much faster and that'll be interesting to manage as a coach."
Leading Needham field hockey during this unique season will be four senior co-captains in goaltender Cammy Foster, midfielder Kenzie Kelly, midfielder Hailey Queler and defender Sara Kenney.
Along with adjusting to the seven-on-seven format, Magni says that coaching her athletes to play for pride and not for championships presents a challenge on its own. That said, Magni believes her players and captains are willing to leave it out on the field this fall. Playing high school sports is a privilege that Needham field hockey looks to take full advantage of.
"It's really tough because when you think of sports, you think the end goal is always to win the championship," said Magni. "I think it's important to realize that there's usually only one winner and there's plenty of teams who play all the time that don't expect to make it that far. They are playing for other purposes other than winning a championship, and that main purpose they are playing for is that they love the game and they want the opportunity to play the game they love. I think it's really important that we constantly remind our players this year that this is an opportunity to play one last time together in high school and get out there on the field with your friends and teammates and play the game you love and just enjoy it. I think that takes the pressure off the players a little bit, so they can almost enjoy it a little more. I think that's going to be a bit of a hard concept to grasp for a lot of players on teams that constantly fight for championships. But at the same time, a lot of these girls are aware that this is a huge opportunity that they almost didn't have, and they also know that it can be gone in a second, because who knows what the future holds. So, I do think that every game, they are just going to go out there and lay it all out on the line and enjoy it. It could be a really positive thing."