Senior All-American Erika Kelly is already Stonehill's all-time leading scorer heading into her final season. (PHOTO BY Andrew Katsampes)
By Scott Souza
NORTH EASTON – When you grow up in the culture of a field hockey program like Watertown High, the confidence that you can – and will – do just about anything on the field to win becomes embedded.
That confidence is evident in the generations of players from the school's dynasties of the 1980s, 1990s, champions in the 2000s, and the recent run that has seen the Raiders go undefeated for nearly seven years.
It's a confidence that former Raiders carry with them to the next level and it's one that Watertown alumnae Lauren Giordano and Erika Kelly clearly still have as they embark on their respective senior seasons at Stonehill College.
"We had an awesome year last year – making it to Louisville and going to the Final Four – and we're expecting to win a national championship this year," Giordano declared in the early stages of Tuesday's preseason practice on the Stonehill turf. "(We expect to) go all the way. So we're excited."
There are many good reasons for Giordano's matter-of-fact optimism, and those reasons start with the two former Raiders themselves. Giordano finished her junior season with 13 goals and four assists, for 30 points, while Kelly is a two-time All-America and reigning North Region Player of the Year who scored a team-high 25 goals with six assists as a junior.
"This group here definitely has a lot of potential to go places," said Kelly, who is already the program's all-time leading scorer with 71 goals and 152 points in 60 career games. "We've worked so hard all throughout preseason. The people who have been here have worked hard all their years here.
"The family part of that comes into play with that. Because, if you are a family off the field, you are a family on the field."
Each year, however, a high school and college family loses some important members to graduation, and this season the Skyhawks will have to overcome the loss of another former Watertown great in Emily Sideris. Both Giordano and Kelly said their older high school teammate was one of the draws for them to attend the Division II school.
"I wanted a school close to home," Giordano said. "Obviously, they have really good academics here. Emily Sideris, who went to high school with us, came here – and that was another really good reason for us to come here. It was a familiar face, she said it was a really good school, and I liked it."
Kelly said she has some chances to go Division I, but decided to pursue her field hockey college dreams at a place where she would still have some time to pursue other activities and dreams besides the sport that had dominated her life for several years.
Lauren Giordano earned All-Northeast-10 honors for the first time in 2014. (PHOTO BY Jan Volk/SportsPix)
"There were options," she said. "But I figured D-II was kind of the perfect balance. I talked with a couple of people who played D-II and they said it was a good balance academically and athletically. I was looking for more balance in my life coming out of high school."
The Skyhawks were picked third in the Northeast-10 preseason poll this week and have been ranked fifth nationally heading into a season-opening weekend that includes games against No. 6-ranked East Stoudsburg (Pa.) and No. 2-ranked West Chester.
Stonehill returns 18 letterwinners – including six starters - from last year's squad that won the NE-10 title and reached the national semifinals for the fourth time in program history. One big change from last year's squad, however, will be the head coach as former Drexel assistant Susan Ciufo replaces Shelly Morris, who left to become associate head coach at her alma mater of Northeastern University.
Ciufo said it did not take her long to see the connection on the field that Giordano and Kelly have been building for nearly a decade.
"The ability to play together that they have had for so long now (is clear)," the coach said. "Erika's strengths are different from Lauren's strengths, and vice versa. They make a really great team up there. They are pretty deadly."
Giordano said Ciufo has pushed the veterans hard early in the season, but that is a good thing given how far they want to push themselves this fall.
"It's been a big adjustment," she said. "There are a lot of changes that we've had to adapt to. But we like her. She's tough. I think she'll do really good things for our program and I think she can lead us to a championship, so we're excited to have her."
"It's been a good adjustment," Kelly added. "Change is good sometimes. I think this group right here is working hard with it.
"Between this coach and this team I think it's going to be a great combination."
Scott Souza can be reached at 781-398-8006 or email@example.com.