Field Hockey Adds Another Chapter to a Proud Program History

A core group of seniors led the Huskies through a season of unique challenges en route to a Regional Title

story by Nick Miller '09, photos by Becky Moore

There’s a saying among coaches across all sports that only one playoff team gets to finish the season with a victory celebration. Any team that regularly competes in postseason competition is bound to hear it spoken in consolation. The simple and often-repeated truth provides little solace in the face of defeat, but it neatly summarizes the complexity of emotions felt after a playoff loss. High-level competition is not for the faint of heart, and all but one team must learn to face the moment when the light of a magical season is extinguished and the final game clock reads 00:00. 

The Maine Central Institute field hockey team is no stranger to playoff competition, but that didn’t make losing in the Class C State title game to Winthrop High School this fall any easier to stomach. Championship play has become the standard in the proud MCI program, but with the passing of time, the players and coaches involved in the 2021 season have had the opportunity to reflect on their unique chapter in the book of MCI field hockey.

“I think it could have gone either way,” said senior captain Ella Louder. “Our team should all be proud of themselves because it's hard to even make it to the State game.” 

Indeed, the 2021 edition of Husky field hockey, led by head coach Nancy Hughes, has a lot to be proud of. After a dominant 12-1 regular season in which MCI outscored opponents 83-12, they went on to defeat Spruce Mountain High School (Jay, ME) 6-0 in the Class C Northern Maine Quarterfinal, Mountain Valley High School (Rumford, ME) 3-0 in the Semifinal, and Foxcroft Academy (Dover-Foxcroft, ME) 2-0 in the Regional final. It was the first regional final appearance for MCI since 2017 when they went on to defeat York in the Class B State championship.

Like any team that hoists championship hardware, this group's success story begins well before the first regular season game in September. A core group of six seniors have been playing together since seventh grade at Warsaw Middle School. Naturally, they won their league championship as eighth graders. 

Even as middle schoolers though, this year’s seniors were familiar with the powerhouse program that lay ahead of them. “They understand down at Warsaw that this is a proud field hockey tradition that's been generated by Nancy Hughes. They don't want to disappoint her,” said MCI Athletic Director Jim Leonard. 

They also know first-hand about the power of legacy. Their freshman season came on the heels of the 2017 State championship season. Now seniors, Ella Louder, Gracie Moore, and Aliviah Ward pointed to the success of teams and players that came before them as essential to their indoctrination into the Husky field hockey way. “Addi Williams '18, Madison Hartley '19, and Victoria Friend '19, they really were leaders for all of us,” said Louder. “They guided us through how to get through high school field hockey and how to get better. And then seeing them go on and play [at the collegiate level], it’s just different.”

Williams was named 2018 All-Commonwealth Coast Conference Second Team while playing at Endicott College the year after winning the 2017 Maine Field Hockey Player of the Year award. Friend was distinguished with 2019 First Team All-New England Collegiate Conference honors at Husson University, and Hartley started for a Division I University of Maine squad that was ranked 21st in the nation and played in the NCAA national tournament this fall. Dawn Deweese-Moss '20 and Alexis Tardy '19 saw playing time this season at the University of New England as well.

Hughes said, “It's good for the younger players to see these girls. Like, ‘hey, I used to be on a team with that girl’. It sets that standard for them. I think there are more girls who look to play in college just because the kids that came before them.”

It is perhaps Moore and Williams that will be linked in the mind of the Husky field hockey community for years to come. It was Moore’s 40 goals (to go with 14 assists) this season that broke Williams' previous single season school record of 35. Moore told the Bangor Daily News “It’s amazing because the girl whose record I broke, Addi Williams, is someone I looked up to.”

MCI senior Gracie Moore stick handles past a Foxcroft Academy defender in the Class C Northern Maine title game

 

“Gracie does it all,” said Hughes. “I think part of the thing that makes her such a good goal scorer is her competitive nature. When you're in practice doing a drill and she basically throws herself towards the goal and you see her almost hit her head on the post because she's flying through the air to try to make a deflection, you just know that girl is going to do anything she can to score.

Moore has committed to play collegiately at Bentley University next fall after receiving All-State and Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference (KVAC) All-Conference honors. Ward (KVAC second team) and Louder have committed to play at Husson.

The individual accolades are almost par for the course at this point in MCI field hockey history. Hughes herself has two state championships, four regional titles, and 135 wins to her name in her fourteen seasons as head coach at MCI. 

The team concept, however, is what turns talented players into champions, a fact that’s most evident when Moore, the most decorated of this year’s seniors, talks about her success: “I think having a good supporting team is really important in life or in any sport, but especially field hockey. You can have your individual skills but you can't do it by yourself. There's eleven people on the field that have your back and are supporting you and there's no way I could have done it without them.”

Hughes identified team chemistry as a particular strength this year. “They did a good job of helping each other and supporting each other and recognizing when somebody needed that extra support, somebody needed a gentle touch, or somebody needed a kick in the butt, that kind of thing.” She said that after the loss in the state final, “the girls were taking pictures together and hugging each other and talking about how much they love each other,” adding, “It's just the chemistry piece. I think that pulled them through.”

Louder said, “Our team communicates really well together. We have a really good bond. And I think that's one of the most important things about our team.” Led, as usual, by the core group of seniors, the players would hang out together even when they didn’t have breakfast, inviting each other into one another’s homes for meals. “We hang out together all the time at school too,” added Ward.

The team camaraderie was manifested on the field also, as both Hughes and her players noted the pass-first concept that this year’s huskies executed with great success. “There are a lot of teams that just get the ball and hit up the field as hard as they can. We just don't play that style,” said Hughes. “We like to play a passing style, and we worked a lot on not having any one person try to do too much but doing a lot of passing and cutting to receive the ball.”

Moore said, “Our team's really fast, so those quick, short passes worked really well. The quick give-and-goes down the field was something that worked for us.”

The MCI roster was well-stocked with players suited to the skill game. Along with Moore, Ward, and Louder, players like juniors Hannah Robinson, Ella Bernier, Trinity Leavitt, and Jenessa Foster helped to facilitate a scoring attack that overwhelmed opponents at times while rookie goalie Keydaliz Rivera anchored the defense. Still, the communication and passing skills that served the team so well were forged in practice and drillwork. 

“A focal point of our coaching is to stress that communication,” said Hughes. “We did a lot more drills this year that involved a very blatant communication piece, like you cannot pass the ball to this girl unless she says your name and you say her name. That kind of thing.”

Louder said, “those drills helped us a lot. If you didn't say the person's name, you'd be running--like you'd have a punishment.”

Seniors from the Maine Central Institute field hockey team pose with the 2021 Northern Maine Class C Regional Championship plaque

 

Hughes’ teams are always well-conditioned, said Leonard, which has paid dividends time and time again late in games throughout her coaching career. “We jokingly call them the Iron Maidens because of the workout routines that they do during the summer and the fall,” he said.

Intense summer workouts have been a staple of the program’s success during Hughes’ time at MCI, and the player’s willingness to compete and play in tournaments year round helps to keep them sharp. Hughes said several of the annual offseason tournaments the team plays in were cancelled this year because of COVID 19 concerns, but they did play in one February tournament in New Hampshire that offered a glimpse into what this year’s team had to offer. It was a seven vs. seven tournament, and the MCI girls travelled with exactly seven players and no substitutes to give them a breather. They took second place, tying one game and winning the rest. “That really let me know we had a strong core,” said Hughes. 

“We were playing teams from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, the best club teams,” said Louder. “And a lot of them had DI commits,” added Ward. 

“That was a turning point for the seven of us that were there,” said Louder. “Kind of like, if we just beat the best club teams with DI players, then we can beat some teams from Central Maine and go all the way.”

That’s not to say it was a year without challenges. Dating back to the previous season, said Hughes, “One of the things that we stressed to them was we had to win the close games, right? It's one thing to go and blow teams out 12-0 or 13-0. But you know, we were losing those close games. Then we beat Foxcroft 2-0 and then we beat Nokomis. We had a couple of those big games that we were able to win and I think that that helps with their confidence and allows them to see like, yeah, we can be tough defensively. It's one thing to never have the ball in our defensive end and just score goal after goal, but when the other team carries it down into our end, you know, we have to defend.”

An early season matchup against Class B Lawrence High School (Fairfield, ME) also provided a challenge. The Bulldogs were dominant in Class B throughout the regular season, earning the top seed in Northern Maine before losing to Old Town in the Regional final. Lawrence won the game 5-1, handing MCI their only loss of the regular season. 

“One of the biggest moments for us was when we played Lawrence and we ended up losing that game. It really showed us that we have to keep working,” said Louder. “I think it was a lesson. Like if we didn't lose that game, I don't think we would have done as well this season. It taught us we had to keep working every practice. We had to get there. We had to show up.”

The loss to Lawrence would set the stage for redemption in another matchup with a Class B school in Nokomis Regional High (Newport, ME). Ward said Nokomis is a rivalry game for MCI, dating back to the years that MCI played in Class B. MCI's opening goal would be matched by Nokomis before the Huskies scored again to make it a 2-1 victory. It was a statement win, and one that allowed them to exorcise the close-game ghosts that Hughes referred to before making a playoff run. 

The Nokomis game also occurred within a challenging stretch in which MCI played six games in two weeks. “The schedule quickly spiraled out of control because of COVID cases from other schools. With the postponements, they faced a daunting challenge the last two weeks [of the regular season]. That was a difficult stretch,” said Leonard. 

The Huskies emerged from the late-season gauntlet with six wins to add to their one-loss record and a newfound confidence heading into postseason play. After dispatching Spruce Mountain and Mountain Valley in the early playoff rounds, the 2-0 Northern Maine Final victory over Foxcroft was indicative of the strides that the battle-hardened MCI team had made.

MCI would go on to put forth an effort worthy of a championship team in the State title matchup. Winthrop, which was playing in its fourth consecutive State game, scored on three of its six penalty corners, the last of which sealed a 3-2 victory with only a minute left in regulation. Winthrop’s Madeline Perkins, a senior who scored that final goal, told the Bangor Daily News after the game, “They (MCI) were our toughest competition, by far.”

It takes a champion and a true competitor to face defeat on the biggest stage, and the 2021 team was both.  “I could not be more proud of them,” said Hughes.  “We did what we set out to do, we were there, right? We had the opportunity, we were there and, you know, a bounce this way and a bounce that way, it's a different game. I don't think that they dwelled on it.”

For the seniors who won’t step on the field in maroon and white again, the legacy they left behind is worth the heartbreak. 

“I think that the young girls saw that to be in this program, you have to be dedicated. And you have to want it. You have to give up a lot,” said Louder. “I think the feeling of losing that last game, the juniors and the sophomores and the freshmen that are here don't want to feel that again. I think that they're going to go hard next year, and they're going to want it 100 times more.”

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