Lady Cavalier leader is Suffolk’s best

Published 9:59 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Suffolk high school field hockey was on the rise in 2008. Lakeland won its eighth consecutive Southeastern District title and again advanced to the regional playoffs.

Nansemond River finished second in the district after a thrilling, road upset of Western Branch and King’s Fork showed defensive improvement as it continued to build its fledgling program. Nansemond-Suffolk couldn’t capitalize on its full potential but still had a nice upset of Cape Henry on which to hang its hat.

Lakeland was led by standout midfielder Kelsey Smither, whose 13 goals and 35 assists were only a small indication of her true value. The sophomore’s ability to break down defenses on the dribble or with a pass opened offensive lanes for her teammates and powered the Cavaliers’ attack. She was a distinct shooting threat on penalty corners, was the district player of the year and received All Eastern Region honors.

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Kaity Byrum, Lakeland’s lone senior, shouldered a large leadership role and acted as a conduit between her teammates and fiercely competitive coach Tara Worley. Kendall Combs moved from being a freshman defender to becoming a sophomore forward and produced 24 goals and 15 assists. Morgan McCaw was the backbone of the Cavaliers’ defense.

At Nansemond River, junior goalkeeper Stephanie Tarafas finally began earning the regional attention she had deserved even as a sophomore. Athletic, fearless and vocal, the petite netminder made opponents wary around the cage with her sudden rushes towards loose balls. Against Western Branch, she stopped six consecutive penalty corners early in the second half.

The Warriors’ other true standout was converted defender Breanne Lowe, whose intensity could be matched only by Smither. Bringing a linebacker’s mentality to the field, the senior dominated many games from her center midfield position and, like Byrum, will continue her career on the college level next fall.

Nansemond River also benefited from the tandem of Hannah Meinertzhagen and Brittany Frame. Paired in the midfield last season, the juniors were sometimes split this fall, with one moving up to forward. The Warriors will welcome them back for a third consecutive season of excellence in 2009.

At King’s Fork, the program suffered injuries and attrition during the season but the players never lost their spirit. Determined conditioning efforts allowed the Bulldogs to hang on against superior foes and they posted a three-game winning streak for the first time in school history.

Anchoring King’s Fork’s much-pressured defense was back Kiara Anthony. Without her, a challenging season could have resulted in many more goals allowed.

Nansemond-Suffolk received a gift out of the blue early in the preseason when German transfer student Katharina Kleis materialized on the field. With technical excellence and consistent hustle, the junior and fellow midfielder Jamie Iiams, a senior, carried the Saints through the difficult Tidewater Conference schedule.