On November 2, the Horace Greeley field hockey team clinched its first Section 1 championship since 1984 with a 1-0 win over Mamaroneck.
It was a late goal by senior captain Isabelle Klein that sealed the win at Nyack High School last Fall. But building a championship team–one that lost two straight sectional final games before breaking through–took years, both for the program and the girls who finally ended the drought.
The upwards trek towards the top of Class A began 11 years ago, when Sukhvindar Singh Sandhu–recently named New York State Coach of the Year–joined the coaching staff. Sandhu, who played pro field hockey in India, found a middling program that posed little threat to Section 1 Class A juggernaut Mamaroneck. Sandhu saw that many of the girls were relatively new to the game, and realized he needed to get a stick in their hands at a younger age.
Building a Hockey Program from the Ground Up
“I talked to a couple of the parents, and we started a youth program,” he recalls. This helped grow the number of players coming out for the team, but it was not enough. “The next step was getting the travel team” established, Sandhu says. “You need the kids playing year-round.”
Sandhu became head coach of the varsity team in 2009 after a year coaching JV.
His first four years at the varsity level produced just one winning record and no playoff wins. In 2013 the Quakers began showing signs of life, making it to the Section 1 quarterfinals. The next year, Greeley reached the semi-finals, followed by three trips to the sectional championship game in four years.
The Quakers fell one game short of a Section 1 title in 2015, 2017 and 2018, losing to Mamaroneck each time. In November, the girls found themselves as the only team standing in the way of a Tigers threepeat.
“Seeing the seniors lose in that final game [the previous two years], I did not want to feel that as a senior,” midfielder Sofia Rutman says. “We just knew that couldn’t be our last game with the underclassmen.”
Klein’s goal, along with a dominant Quaker defense which did not allow a goal throughout the Section 1 playoffs, were enough to finally lift Greeley past the Tigers. Greeley won two more games to make it to the state championship. There, the season ended with a 2-1 loss to Maine-Endwell. “Most of the girls on our team who are juniors now were playing in that youth group with me,” says junior forward Lily Schoonmaker, who started playing the sport in fifth grade and has verbally committed to play for Colgate. “We’ve been going through the New Castle program through modified and now to varsity.”
Team Camaraderie & Coaches: Key Success Factors
Rutnam also pointed to the team chemistry as an important factor in their success. “I’ve been playing with these girls for six or seven years now, and it makes a huge difference just to know them and know their playing styles,” she explains. “We got along off the field really well, and that translated to passing and connections on the field. It let us score a lot of goals.”
Schoonmaker, who led the team with 20 goals, and Rutman, who was named the Quakers’ MVP, both cited Sandhu and assistant coach Brittany Paulus as key to the team’s success. “If you have a foot in the wrong place as you’re approaching somebody with the ball, he knows exactly where you should be and how to fix it,” Rutman says of Sandhu. “He knows every aspect of the game.”
Following their 18-1-4 season, the Quakers will be favored to vie for the championship again next season. The team is graduating nine seniors, including Rutman, who was All State, All League midfielder Talia Belowich and forward Klein, and All League Honorable Mention forward Kristen Graham and midfielder Paige Dalrymple. Defender Mia Warshaw, forwards Tess Fuqua and Sophie Dorst, and midfielder Mia Handler will also graduate.
But three All State players will be returning –Schoonmaker along with defender Caroline Flannery and midfielder Natalie Laskowski. All Section defender Stephanie Kasulka will be back, as will Emma Terjesen, Grace Arrese, Hannah Lane and goaltender Siena Jarrin, who were all named All League or All League Honorable Mention.
With a Section 1 title crossed off the checklist, the next goal is to win one more game and take home the state championship. “We are going to come back strong,” says Schoonmaker. “Now that we’ve been there, we have to do it.”