Charlotte Country Day’s field hockey team has won two straight state championships and is a favorite to win a third.
That’s why Buccaneers coach Lisa Thompson emphasizes to her players how good they can be – and how much better the competition is getting.
“The reality is that we have high expectations to compete, to play well and improve every day,” Thompson said. “But what we talk about to the girls immediately, even on the first day of practice, is that people want to beat them.
“Their opponents are coming, and they’re getting better and stronger and faster every day. Just in Charlotte, the competition level is growing … and the level of play is really elevated. So we know we’ve got to improve every day.”
Last year’s Charlotte Country Day team finished the season 15-2, and beat Durham Academy 1-0 in double overtime to win the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association state title.
It was the fourth state title won in eight attempts under Thompson, who took over as the Buccaneers’ coach in 2002, and their 12th (in 23 championship game appearances) since the NCISAA began holding state playoffs in the sport in 1981.
That history, not to mention the team’s recent success – puts a target on Charlotte Country Day, and the players know it.
“Every year, we face some very strong competition,” said Kathryn Holland, an All-American and the team’s leading scorer last year with 20 goals, and one of eight seniors on the Buccaneers’ roster this season.
“While winning the state championship is ultimately the goal, just getting everybody working together and improving is what makes that happen. So far, we’ve done really well with that in practice.”
Several players said the secret to Charlotte Country Day’s program is their practice regimen.
“Every year, we haven’t started off the best we can be,” said senior Alison Gakenheimer. “Each year, we start off kinda small and just build it up. Each practice, we get better and better.
“You can see the growth in every player. As we practice every day, we see that happening. It’s encouraging.”
The Buccaneers also have some inexperienced players this season. Among the graduating players from last season’s squad was All-American goalkeeper Shannon Baker.
Baker had 94 saves in goal her senior year, allowed just nine goals all season and recorded shutouts in 13 of Charlotte Country Day’s 15 wins.
“Yeah, we have new keepers this year,” Thompson said. “But we’ve had some really great discussions on how important that role is to the team, and we’ve had two amazing athletes (senior Riley Harrison and sophomore Bennett Pittroff) step into the role.”
Now it’s just a matter of getting all the pieces working together, according to Thompson. So far, the Buccaneers have gotten off to a good start. They beat Charlotte Catholic in their season opener 7-0 on Aug. 25.
But Thompson and her players know the competition is gunning for them.
“People want to beat you, and they’re coming hard with emotion, intensity, grit and skill,” Thompson said. “Everybody wants that championship, but we do not talk about it like that.
“We talk about every day, are we improving? Can we physically see, is it tangible, the improvement? The idea for us is to build so that towards the end of the season, we’re playing at our very best.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.