POWHATAN – There are so many things head coach Stephanie Tyson likes about her Powhatan Field Hockey team.
“They are great student athletes – just really good kids,” Tyson said. “They are all very smart, sweet and hard working.”
The players do whatever the coaches ask of them on the field. They’re much quieter, but they lead through the example they set.
They’ve put in the work across the calendar, keeping their skills sharp in the offseason through taking on the indoor league, the summer league and preseason conditioning.
“We’ve been together since the middle of summer…and we just naturally bond with each other, because we’ve never really had bickering or arguing or anything,” senior multisport standout Michala Taylor said. “Everyone’s a family here.”
It’ll be a season of change. The Indians are coming off a standout 12-5 season and a second place finish in the Jefferson District, but they also saw tremendous leaders on the team - Calie Rehme, Katlyn Hicks and Dani Bigham among them – graduate this June. Overall, Powhatan is returning just five fulltime starters from last season.
“These seniors have big shoes to follow,” Tyson said, “but I think they are up for the challenge.”
“I feel like we’re a lot closer than we have been in previous years,” added senior defender Alicia Dern. “Even when we’re doing our scrimmages, everyone just kind of knows where they need to be and how they need to play just to help the rest of the team out.”
Taylor, who played defense as a freshman, forward as a sophomore and then a little bit of both as a junior, will be combining those experiences while also still learning a new position by playing midfield as a senior.
“I have a different job this year, so it’s a little different; I’m not protecting the goal or going towards it; I’m distributing” the ball, Taylor said. “It’s a different goal there, but I’m learning just with everyone else…because even though I’ve played for a really long time, every single day you learn something new, because it’s not like a known sport that everybody knows like basketball or baseball or something like that…you learn every single day, and I like having the new position and just being able to grow.”
“I am really looking forward to watching how the season progresses for Michala,” said Tyson, who has coached Taylor since she was in the eighth grade and has seen her grow both on and off the field. “She came into the season in amazing shape – extremely strong and fast…she is so versatile on the field and I am really excited about what the future has to hold for her.”
The coaches are looking for senior Ella Weber to take charge of the defense in the center this season.
“Ella Weber has also been working hard,” Tyson said, “and came into tryouts in great shape.”
She’s excited about what she’s seeing from senior forward Erin Barney, who has had big shoes to follow in playing the same position as Bigham. Barney “always seems to be in the right place in front of the goal,” Tyson said, “and has potential to step up and score.”
“She does a great job listening to feedback from both coaches,” Tyson said, adding that she’s “becoming more confident each day.”
She noted that senior Ryann Overboe “is very reliable in the midfield and does a great job distributing the ball for us,” and she praised Hanna Hathaway for having “amazing stick work and a knack for scoring goals.”
“It is only her junior year,” Tyson said of Hathaway, “and I cannot wait to watch her play!”
Powhatan also has a promising returner in sophomore Peyton Tuttle, who played in goal last year when Emily Stephenson got hurt.
“It was amazing to see her progress,” Tyson said, “and I am excited about her future.”
Senior Emily Stephenson has been a standout goalie across the athletic calendar, also contributing to the lacrosse team. She emphasized the importance of communicating with her team from where she stands in goal.
“Being a goalie, you kind of have the eyes of the field…you see everything that’s going on,” she said, “so it’s really important to communicate to your defense on where to stand and where they should be.”
It’ll be a different mix for Powhatan in 2019.
“On one hand we have seniors that have been a part of building the winning tradition,” Tyson said, “and we also have freshmen and sophomores who have not played for varsity but show great potential. It is going to be interesting to watch how they progress and blend together this season.”
The future of Powhatan Field Hockey continues to be bright, Tyson said. Two sophomores whom the program pulled up to varsity last season for regionals – Catherine Griffith and Jordan Krauss – are back, and junior Kaitlin Thompson, as well as freshman Lexie Campbell, will be among this year’s newcomers to watch.
“We have so many young, athletic players moving through the program at both the JV and varsity level, and it is very exciting to watch them,” Tyson said, “but we definitely do not have a large amount of game experience going into the season.”
With the mix of seasoned seniors and talented but young and inexperienced players, Tyson pointed to the team’s goal of getting better each game so that, come the end of the regular season, the Indians are playing their best, and they’re able to win some games once tournament time rolls around.
Tyson expects this team to show up and work hard in practice and games every single day.
“I think we really just need the season to get started to work out the kinks,” Tyson said. “With only five players having starter experience it will take us a little time to figure out how all of the pieces fit together. But that is the strategy of this game – and part of what makes coaching fun for [Coach Caryn] Rehme and I.”
The new-look Indians will go hand-in-hand with a new landscape in 2019. All of Powhatan’s VHSL teams are now grouped in the Dominion District, which heavily features neighboring schools in the Midlothian/ Chesterfield County and south Richmond communities as opposed to the relatively distant Charlottesville-area schools in the Jefferson District.
“Moving to the Dominion District is a great step for our school and all of our athletic programs. It obviously cuts down on the travel time, which is huge,” Tyson said. “The bus rides really wear you down as the season progresses and takes a toll on our student athletes. It is really difficult to get home at 10 or 11 p.m. and then wake up and do it all over again the next day.
“I also think it is positive that we will be playing against local teams and our hope is to continue to build those rivalries,” Tyson said. “We have made a point to play the best teams because that is how you get better, and that included many of the programs from this district, so it is familiar to us.”
For Powhatan Field Hockey, a successful season means so many things.
“It really is about the kids,” Tyson said. “I am excited about the eight seniors and looking forward to it being a great year for all of them. They have been a part of this program on JV and/or varsity for the past three or four years and put so much into helping to continue to build this program.
“I want them to continue to grow and learn the game of field hockey,” Tyson said, “and for it to be a positive experience for them.”