Saints and coach growing together

Published 12:34 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Nansemond-Suffolk Academy field hockey team is headed by coach Ashley Aston.

Nansemond-Suffolk’s first field hockey season under new head coach Ashley Aston came with signs of progress yet still left the Lady Saints with lots of room to grow, most notably in the Tidewater Conference standings.

Last season, the Lady Saints won two matches to win the Steward School Invitational in Richmond early in the season. NSA went on to reach the Virginia Independent Schools (VIS) State Tournament as the last seed into the field before a loss to No. 1 Covenant.

So building blocks, along with some confidence carrying over, should be there as Aston, a Nansemond River and Virginia Commonwealth alum, along with standout defender for the Warrior and Ram field hockey teams, starts her second season with NSA.

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Along with Tara Worley at Lakeland and Ali Mowry with the Lady Warriors, Aston makes three Nansemond River grads in the four varsity field hockey coaches in Suffolk.

“The girls have an idea about how I coach. Now I’m used to them. I know their personalities a lot better,” Aston said.

“I got to see them in a lot of different positions last year. We tried out some new positions and new thoughts with them at the end of last season and I think that’ll help us this season,” Aston said.

Brooke Starling, Kelsey White, Katie Lerner and Liza Bart Dolan are Aston’s four captains.

Dolan was a First Team All-TCIS forward last season, her first year after transferring into NSA.

“Everyone’s more excited and more motivated than I’ve seen,” Dolan said. “We’ve started on a good note because everyone came (into preseason practice) already in shape, so we’ve been able to focus more on skills because we were already in shape.”

“We have a great group and they’ve come out motivated,” Aston said.

“It’s given the girls confidence,” Aston said about what a couple tastes of success means for a new season.

“We’re still seen as an underdog, not a team to beat, and that’s okay. I think we’ll surprise some people this year,” Aston said.

“We also have handful of girls up from JV and we are expecting a lot from them,” Aston said.

NSA’s varsity squad is made up entirely of juniors and seniors. A side effect is keeping the junior varsity Lady Saints, with players as young as seventh graders, together to largely move up to varsity together in the next year or two.

“It’s more popular. We have more seventh graders out this year. The sport’s definitely growing in Suffolk and hopefully I can keep introducing it more at NSA,” Aston said.

The Lady Saints start their season on Thursday by hosting Warwick of the Peninsula District.

NSA has two tournaments on its September slate, first at the Steward School again Sept. 9-10 and two weeks later at the Carlisle School in Martinsville. The Lady Saints have until Oct. 4 vs. Walsingham to prepare for conference play.

In the TCIS, the highest hurdles the Lady Saints face are Cape Henry, the defending state champs in VIS Div. II, and Norfolk Academy, the VIS Div. I runner-up last fall.