Newark Charter’s field hockey team is off to one of its best starts in the program’s five-year history as a varsity sport.
The Patriots won three of their first four games to get off to the hottest start since the inaugural varsity season in 2015, when Newark Charter was 3-0 out of the gate.
“Each year, we find our athletes to be more and more dedicated to the sport out of season, which makes all the difference when they are not putting their stick down to rest for nine months until preseason begins again,” said head coach Stacey Spiker, who is in her seventh year coaching in the program.
Spiker also was quick to credit the school’s feeder program.
“I also think we are fortunate to have such a strong middle school program feeding into ours,” she pointed out. “Middle school coach Jana Ambrose instills such a love for the game in them before they even get to us, which is most definitely in our favor.”
The players’ fervor for the game combined with making the state tournament for the first time last season has created an interest in out-of-season training that includes playing on travel clubs and attending clinics. The team also competed in the New Castle County indoor winter and summer league programs.
The Patriots’ lineup includes a plethora of returning starters, led by captains Claire Reader, Megan Kelby and Livvie Upreti.
“Megan is always encouraging her teammates, a true leader both on and off the field,” Spiker said of the senior defender. “Livvie, a junior, has beautiful stickwork and is dangerous inside the circle.”
Reader was a first-team all-conference performer last season as a junior after posting seven shutouts and saving 88 percent of the shots fired on goal.
Last year’s leading scorer, Brenna Zeigler, was another first-team all-conference selection last season who is expected to find the back of the cage often during her sophomore season. Joining Zeigler up front are senior Eva Dolde and sophomore Ella Salinski.
“Brenna is a very dynamic player,” Spiker said. “Eva and Ella work hard on the field at all times.”
Midfielders include a pair of sophomores, Mary Cate Anson, an all-conference selection who led the team in assists, and Megan Stephens.
“Mary Cate is such a versatile player who will do anything that is asked of her,” Spiker said. “Megan is a hard-working midfielder who worked her way into the starting lineup last season as a freshman.”
Senior Emma Feldmann made the position change from midfielder to defender and is joined on defense by junior Melanie Heider, a second-team all-conference selection a year ago.
“Emma is proving to be quite the defender. She provides solid hits out of the back end,” Spiker explained. “Melanie is a strong defender for us whose soccer field sense transfers over beautifully for us in the back.”
Rounding out the roster are seniors Lorna Ryan and Natalie Polk, sophomores Suzanne Pal and Bianca Soutar, freshmen Katie Meredith and Paige O’Brian, and eighth-graders Sophia Orlando and Addie Nelson.
While the fast start is certainly a positive, Striker realizes it’s a long season ahead.
“I try to keep them focused in the moment and not to look too far beyond that,” she explained. “We didn’t hit our stride last season until we were about halfway through and fortunately we were able to keep that momentum going to end strong and make the tournament for the first time in our program’s history. I also remind them to keep our team goals in mind: being a conference contender and playing hockey into November.”
Striker has complete confidence in her squad.
“We have a tough schedule ahead, but these girls are driven, motivated athletes who work hard in our practice sessions and until that final whistle during games,” she proudly said. “They’ll find a way to win.”