Kelly Vrooman’s take on the abundance of field hockey talent in the Suburban Council this year?
Bring it on.
“It’s going to help us become a better Class B team,” the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach said after Thursday’s practice. “Every game for us is going to be a battle, and that will be good for us.”
Vrooman is hoping to use the top-heavy league as a springboard toward a second straight Section II Class B championship for the Spartans. Burnt Hills is the lone Class B team in the league that’s been dominated by Niskayuna, Shenendehowa and Saratoga Springs for several years. They’ll be strong again, and Bethlehem is on the rise.
“For me, the important thing is winning big games. We would like to win back-to-back sectional titles,” said Vrooman. “I’m not going to let the kids beat themselves up if we lose a couple of league games.”
The Spartans went 8-6 in the league last season, with their signature win coming in overtime against Saratoga, and placed fourth in the overall standings behind Shenendehowa (9-5), the Blue Streaks (12-2) and Niskayuna (13-1).
Niskayuna went on to claim the Class A title, and later made its first state semifinal appearance.
“We’re going to try to get something out of every game. We’re going to learn from our mistakes, and fix them. Our objective is to get better as we go along,” said Vrooman, who started for Burnt Hills on its 1987 state championship team. “The offseason is about building a player. The season is about building a team. That’s my motto.”
Burnt Hills meshed and progressed last fall, and peaked in the Section II tournament with victories over Ichabod Crane (3-0), Queensbury (5-1) and Foothills Council winner Johnstown (3-1) to secure its first title since 2007. The Spartans lost to eventual state champ Lakeland, 7-1, in a regional game that followed.
“I think we’re a better team than last year,” said Vrooman. “We’re more mature. We have more leadership.”
Burnt Hills put together its 12-8 overall record with a roster that included only five seniors. Standout forward Amy LeBel is the team’s most significant loss to graduation.
“We’ve never had as much depth as we have now,” said Vrooman. “We’ll have a wave of girls coming in.”
The Spartans’ cast includes Suburban Council first-team all-stars Meghan Largo at forward and Ashley LaMere at midfield, second-team all-stars Aubrey Kamppila at forward and Brittany Ryan in goal, as well as Nicole Beardsley, Sarah Ryan, Elise Zwicklebauer, Lexie Ball and Danielle Neumann.
Largo, LeMere, Kamppila and Neumann are four-year varsity performers.
“We do a varsity team camp with them, and they were impressive. They have stick skills. They’re conditioned,” Niskayuna coach Alison Broomhead said of the Spartans. “They’ll be a tough team in the Suburban Council and in their class.”
Niskayuna was the council’s top team three of the last four years. The Silver Warriors also reached the last four Section II Class A finals, with a win over Saratoga in 2009 and overtime losses to Shenendehowa in 2010 and 2011 before last year’s overtime triumph against the Lady Plainsmen.
“We have the potential to do well, but all of the elements have to come together,” said Broomhead, whose team features national team candidate Carrie Hanks at midfield and fellow four-year varsity players Ali Frary up front and Emily King in goal. “Hopefully, we can get the momentum going like last year.”
Niskayuna went further than ever before with a relentless offense that was triggered from the midfield. Hanks earned all-state honors in part because of her fabulous work in transition.
“We want to keep it in the other end as much as possible,” said Broomhead. “Our philosophy hasn’t changed. We want to push the ball, move it quickly and look for second and third shots on the cage.”
Niskayuna has 12 letterwinners back, including last season’s most consistent finisher in forward Ali Wells, who collected 13 goals as a sophomore. All-stater Alexa Angerami, a super playmaker inside the circle, and Anna Torri, who knocked in the game-winning goal in the sectional final against Shenendehowa, are among those who graduated from last year’s 17-3 edition.
“The girls that came before are not replacable,” said Broomhead. “What you have to do is find girls with their own unique way of getting the job done.”
Shenendehowa has its entire starting cast back, led by forward, Anna Bottino, midfielder Molly Hagen, defender Erin Buckley and netminder Melissa Nealon. Other league standouts include the Bethlehem tandem of Sydney Shaw and Marina Skrabalak, Helena Masiello of Columbia, Hailey Marini of Guilderland, Ann Mahoney of Saratoga, and Shaker’s Abby Leahey and Mckenzie McNeill.