By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
It’s been nearly two years since real high school field hockey was played here in Massachusetts. Last season, the MIAA condensed its season to a limited number of conference-only games and the format was swapped from 11-on-11 to seven-on-sevens, along with multiple other rule changes.
The uncertainty of each day, with potential positive COVID tests and contact tracing having the potential to derail all plans, made it difficult for many fall athletic teams in 2020 to get into a consistent rhythm. While field hockey players were still able to play their beloved sport, it was far from a full and enjoyable experience.
In 2021, field hockey players will finally get their shot at playing a real and full high school season.
In the TVL, Medfield is a program on the rise. Led by three co-captains, senior defender Mary Long, senior goalie Bitsy Crowley and junior forward Ashley Malmquist, the Warriors enter 2021 ready to go full tilt and compete for a spot in the Division II playoffs.
“As a team, our most important thing is doing everything together,” said Long when asked about Medfield's general expectations heading into the new season. “We win together, we lose together, we compete together and we fight together. Doing things together, you need 100-percent effort from each person. If each person doesn’t give that 100-percent, you can’t do it. Showing up for that hour and a half practice means you give 100-percent during that time. You listen, work hard, improve and learn. During games, same expectations. During those two hours, including mental preparation, warmups, and game-time, you have to give your 100-percent. We hope to improve our record and get back on track from an effected season with many rule changes from last year. With everyone giving their 100-percent when needed, we can do it.”
Even though it was just an abbreviated season of playing under different rules in 2020, getting reacclimatized will be a big part of Medfield’s preparation throughout the coming weeks. The seven-on-seven format that was introduced for 2020 has been eliminated; play will return to 11-on-11. Penalty corners will also return. Long says she believes her team adapted well under the circumstances of last season, but now the Warriors will have do it all over again as the rules go back to normal.
“We are very excited, along with nervous,” said Long. “Due to COVID last season, many rule changes [were] applied that we had to learn how to play with. From having to play seven’s instead of 11-on-11 to no [penalty] corners, which are a huge part of the game, I thought we adapted well. But, now we have to switch back to the old rules. This group of girls is the strongest and most determined I’ve ever worked with, so together I know we can do it. Excitement is high, and we are working towards getting a spot in the postseason.”
After last fall’s abbreviated high school season, many of the field hockey players in Medfield took part in club ball. Long says that playing club, along with player-organized conditioning sessions throughout the offseason, have helped her team become more ready for the road ahead.
“After our season, it was club season. It was awesome seeing how many field hockey girls from the program joined a club team, myself included,” said Long. “We also began a conditioning class at the Sweat Shop in Medfield, which was a good start to preseason conditioning before the summer. Captains practices started in April and will continue through August up until tryouts. Bitsy, Ashley and I have had weekly meetings, whether it was through FaceTime or in person, to prepare not only for our season, but for the whole program’s season. It’s a lot of work but it all pays off. We also hold pickup games on Wednesday’s for girls who want to get together and scrimmage. Every week, there are multiple field hockey conditioning options that you can choose, whether you want to work out or just pick up your stick and play. All of this prepares everyone for tryouts, and meeting up with the captains has made for a very organized and productive preseason."
Along with their core of captains, two more key players returning for Medfield are junior midfielder and speedster Chloe Shield and sophomore forward Mikayla Malmquist. Long says the legs and vision of Shield, along with the chemistry built between Mikayla and her sister Ashley, will be pivotal parts of Medfield’s offense this fall.
“I have never seen a girl work harder in my life,” said Long of Shield. “She runs a 5:30-mile and picks up her stick after like it’s no issue. Her endurance is incredible, along with her field skills. Last year was her first year on varsity and she started every single game, and played the whole game. Her field vision is on point, and she has the speed to get around anyone and always has perfect placement on the field.”
"Both Malmquist sisters made varsity their freshmen years and both started and played the whole game,” said Long. “Once Mikayla was a freshman and Ashley was a sophomore, they both worked together so well. Their communication was on point and when possession was at risk, they were always open for each other to help us keep possession. Both of those girls have been playing field hockey their whole lives, and it shows. They both play club in the offseason and they just get better and better. The Malmquist sisters are easily standouts on the field and work not only together, but with the whole team, super well.”
Along with an experienced and well-oiled offense, Long says another strength of Medfield High field hockey in 2021 will be the toughness and experience that the Warriors possess in net with captain Bitsy Crowley.
“When Bitsy and I were freshman, we were put on JV2. Bitsy didn’t really want to play goalie, but she did it anyways. If it were not for her in net, our team wouldn’t have had much of a chance. As a freshman, she got called up for varsity’s last three games and started all three. Sophomore year, she impressed once again and officially made varsity. After every game, the opposing coaches would always come up to our coach and ask about Bitsy and talk about how impressive she was. Unfortunately, Bitsy dislocated her shoulder and tore her labrum in the middle of our sophomore year and had to miss the rest of the season. Last fall as a junior, she jumped right back in net and she didn’t miss a beat. You wouldn’t have been able to tell she was ever injured because she played like a beast. Coaches would continue to tell our coach how incredible our goalie was, so being a captain with such a strong goalie like Bitsy is awesome.”
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0