The Newark High School field hockey season ended on Oct. 29 with a 6-0 victory over the A.I. du Pont Tigers.
The win upped the Yellowjackets’ record to 5-10, and despite twice as many losses as wins, third-year head coach Tina Zheng was ecstatic.
“This season has been a great success,” she said.
The team’s co-captains, juniors Olivia Rivera and Elizabeth Walsh, agree.
“The field hockey program is heading in the right direction because along with learning physical stick skills, we are also learning how to work better with each other as a collective team, rather than individuals on the same field,” Rivera said.
Walsh pointed to additional factors she feels have led to the team’s success.
“The field hockey program definitely seems to be moving in the right direction because of our coaching and hard work,” she said. “In the past, the coaching staff hasn’t been constant, but Tina has been with us for three years now and it’s helped a lot.”
Last year, Newark lost 12 seniors to graduation and so this season started with just five experienced players. Added to the roster were an additional 11 players, with only three of them having ever picked up a field hockey stick before.
Given those facts and figures, even the most optimistic person would have predicted Newark might equal its one-win total from a year ago, but never surpass it.
However, the Yellowjackets did just that, winning more games than the program has since 2013 when Newark tallied six victories.
“I knew this season was going to be a learning season and the new girls were going to have to learn quickly,” Zheng said.
Early blowout losses in their first two games to Appoquinimink (9-0) and St. Mark’s (8-0) didn’t rattle the young but eager-to-improve squad.
“I put a big emphasis on working as a team and improving communication on the field, which has definitely proven to be worth it,” Zheng said.
The message worked as Newark responded with a dominating 6-0 victory over district rival Glasgow to equal last year’s win total just three games into the season. Zheng was quick to credit her captains for being the catalyst of the improved communication.
“The chemistry on the field between my captains, Elizabeth Walsh and Olivia Rivera, is something I have never seen with this team before,” Zheng said of the juniors. “It seemed like they could communicate with one another without any words, they just always knew what the next move was.”
As it did for all of Newark’s fall sports, the move to Flight B this season also proved to be beneficial to the field hockey program. The Yellowjackets defeated Dickinson 3-2 in their seventh game of the season to surpass last year’s win total and then closed out the 2019 campaign with three consecutive shutout victories over McKean, Christiana and A.I. du Pont. Sophomore Mei Tobin was a big part of those shutout wins.
“I cannot talk about this season without also talking about Mei Tobin,” Zheng said. “Mei was originally my defensive mid, but with her speed and stamina, I had her on both defensive and offensive corners, as well as being in the circle in any offensive opportunities. Never once did I have to worry about whether or not Mei would be back in time to help our defensive line.”
Next August, for the first time in a while, Zheng will welcome back an experienced squad loaded with girls who not only have held field hockey sticks before, but now have experienced the thrill of victory in a way that has only made them hungry for more.
“I plan on making sure the team stays in touch over the offseason, and having little practice sessions where we can focus on individual struggles to ensure that the program keeps heading in the right direction,” Rivera said.
According to Walsh, several players are planning to take part in winter and summer leagues, where the stress is as much on having fun as it is on improving. All of the offseason plans should help pave the way for an even better 2020 campaign.
“I have high hopes, as most of the girls are juniors and sophomores,” Zheng said. “We have more to improve on, and I look forward to working with these girls and seeing where it takes us.”