Cavs, NR, KF prepare for field hockey campaign

Published 11:17 pm Saturday, August 1, 2009

Preseason practice for local high school field hockey teams doesn’t technically begin until Monday, but the campaign’s unofficial start was celebrated for an eighth consecutive year with a 7 on 7 tournament at Lakeland. The host Cavaliers advanced to the semifinals for a second consecutive year, showing the promise of being every bit as formidable as last fall, when they won their ninth straight Southeastern District title.

While Lakeland and star midfielder Kelsey Smither romped through pool play with five victories by a combined 16-3, city rivals Nansemond River and King’s Fork also fielded teams. The squads are not officially affiliated with the schools their players attend, so Lakeland was called “Hotline’’, Nansemond River went by the “Stick Divas’’ and King’s Fork the “Junkyard Dogs’’. High school coaches are not supposed to guide summer teams comprised of only their own players, but that rule is widely skirted. Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, which participated in last year’s tournament, was absent at this year’s event.

The 24-team field was broken into four pools, with first-place finishers advancing to the semifinals. Nansemond River finished 1-3-1 and King’s Fork went 0-4-1, with both teams playing shorthanded. The Warriors competed without stalwart Brittany Frame, a senior midfielder whose participation this fall is uncertain, and King’s Fork thrust field player Nicolette Santora into emergency goalkeeping duty because their regular netminder wasn’t available.

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All three of the local teams had their high school coaches in attendance and watching from a distance, or in the case of Lakeland bench boss Tara Worley, pointedly keeping her eyes away from the Cavaliers’ action.

“I glance over but it’s better that I don’t because then I want to coach,’’ said Worley, one of the region’s most intense sideline occupants. “I really enjoy organizing events like this and I have plenty to do, so that’s good.’’

Nansemond River coach Darryl Yandle was also fighting the temptation to instruct his troops. Parked in a lawn chair near the fields, he muttered under his breath and waved his arms in frustration at times. With the loss of three graduated defenders, the longtime Warrior could have his work cut out for him in the near future.

“We’re having defensive letdowns all over the place and that’s because there’s a tremendous amount of conditioning needed among our players,’’ said Yandle, who’s been known to follow his charges on a 1-mile running loop around the high school while riding his motorcycle. “We have young players who need to mature and learn how to play with intensity. If those two things happen, I see a good season.’’

One thing Yandle shouldn’t have to worry about is goalkeeping, where he has one of the country’s best performers. Senior Stephanie Tarafas, an All-District selection last season who was somehow overlooked for regional honors, recently returned from a Boston training camp with the U.S. Junior National Team’s U19 roster. She was one of four participating goalkeepers and has committed to play for James Madison University, the three-time defending champions of the Colonial Athletic Association.

King’s Fork’s has no such standouts, but it has a new coach with a James Madison connection in 30-year old Mollie Turner, who’s been on the job only a week. Turner, who previously coached Norfolk Christian’s track and cross country teams, said her field hockey playing experience is limited to high school physical education courses, but added she has a Master’s degree in exercise science. Turner said she competed in track and cross country for James Madison and trained the Dukes’ field hockey team after graduating in 2003.

“King’s Fork didn’t have a field hockey coach and I was willing to take the job,’’ said Turner, who’ll be teaching earth sciences at the school. “It looks like the players have the basics of the game down pretty well, and they’re certainly going to be in shape because my focus will be on conditioning and injury prevention.’’

Saturday’s local participation ended with Lakeland’s semifinal loss to the Saints club team, a game decided by a 4-3 outcome in penalty strokes. The Cavaliers rode the blistering shots of Smither, a junior who earned All Eastern Region recognition last season, and senior defender Morgan McCaw, who has committed to play for the NCAA Division I program at Longwood College.

“This day is sort of the kickoff to the season for everyone,’’ Worley said. “Most of the summer leagues and tournaments are on (artificial) turf and this tournament gets everyone ready for the opening of high school practice two days later and brings us back to the reality of playing on grass.’’