SWAMPSCOTT — The Swampscott field hockey team was about as young as they come last year.
The Big Blue fielded a team with no seniors and just two juniors, captains Michaela Freddo and Sydney Faulkner. Despite its youth and relative inexperience, Swampscott went 7-4-6 during the regular season and earned the ninth seed in the Division 2 North tournament.
Unfortunately, the Big Blue ran into a tough team in Weston for its first-round matchup, and on Weston’s turf, they fell, 4-0.
This year, Swampscott is back with another year of experience under the belts of the two captains and the large junior class, and ready to make some noise in the Northeastern Conference.
Head coach Jamie Spano says that Faulkner and Freddo are stepping up in a big way with a whole year of captain experience in the books.
“They’re definitely a lot more comfortable,” Spano said. “With such a big junior class, they’re definitely doing a good job keeping everyone on the same page and motivating them.”
That junior class has mostly been playing together since they were on the JV squad in eighth grade. Spending that time on the same field is a big strength for Swampscott.
“They’ve all been playing together for four years now,” Spano said, “and they all know where everybody else is on the field and they’re using their communication, which is a huge focus for us this season.”
Some key returners for the Big Blue are Mary Miles, Sarah Ryan and Jillian Flanders in net. The defense will drive Swampscott’s game.
“It’s definitely our strength,” Spano said. “It’s all going to start on defense.”
As for the offensive threats, returners Sydney Cresta and Maddie O’Brien, along with Freddo, will be important for Swampscott.
Spano said she’s been happy with how things are going in the preseason so far.
“I’ve definitely been impressed with their conditioning,” Spano said. “They’re all in really good shape, and we don’t have a lot of subs, so you have to be able to last a full game at full speed. And just the skill, they’ve worked hard all offseason and made improvements with stick handling and little game skills like that.”
Communication is among the Big Blue’s challenges. Even with the chemistry of the group, Spano says it can get quiet on the field. Jumping out to an early lead is also something the fourth-year coach wants her group to work on as the season gets started.
Last season’s playoff loss against Weston was a good experience for the team, said Spano.
“It helps to be exposed to tougher teams like that,” she said. “It was good for them to see what else is out there, as far as competition goes. That loss was a big wakeup call for us.”
One of the advantages Weston had was hosting Swampscott on its turf field. This year, the Big Blue will finally get to play its home games on turf at the new Blocksidge Field, and it will be a big step toward being competitive with the top-tier teams.
“We’ve been scrimmaging on turf this preseason,” Spano said. “It takes a few minutes for us to get into the game on turf and realize we don’t have to work as hard to drive the ball up the field, and they can let their skills work for them.”
The Big Blue get their 2017 campaign started next Friday at Danvers. They’ll test out the new turf for the first time the next week, hosting Everett on September 12.