High school field hockey: Despite turnover, Gilford is confident it can reach playoffs again

  • Gilford forward Kellie Ryan caught Pelham goalie Ryan Atkins flat-footed in double overtime to score the deciding goal and deliver Gilford its first field hockey championship title since 1998. Ryan returns for her senior season to captain the offense. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Gilford’s defense was outstanding in last fall’s tournament. In this photo, goalie Jenna Delucca knocks the ball out during the second overtime against Pelham in the championship game at Bedford High School. Gilford held on to win, 1-0. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Gilford teammates surround goalie Jenna DeLucca after the Golden Eagles shut out Pelham 1-0 in overtime Sunday at Bedford high school. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Sunday, August 27, 2017

Kellie Ryan won’t forget the feeling of putting away the game-winning goal in double overtime to capture the Division III state title last fall, but her focus – and that of the rest of the Gilford field hockey team – has shifted to what’s ahead.

The Golden Eagles graduated 11 seniors last spring, half of their roster in all. Younger players will need to step into bigger roles this season if Gilford hopes to make another run in the playoffs.

Ryan, a senior, is confident that her team is up to the challenge if they put in the work.

“It all depends on how hard our team is willing to work,” she said. “If we remain humble and keep our focus on progress, I feel our team could go very far.”

The half that returns to the roster this year already knows what it will take to reach that stage again. Many of them played key roles in last year’s championship run. Ryan will be the senior leader in the offensive end while Jillian Lachapelle will fill the role for the defense. Several starters from last year are also back, including juniors Brianna Salanitro, Nicole Berube, Laurel Normandin, and sophomores Jenna DeLucca, Randi Byars, Laurel Gingrich and Emily O’Connor.

Ryan, Lachapelle, Berube and Byars are the captains.

DeLucca was a star for Gilford in the title game against Pelham, shutting out the Pythons through regulation and a full overtime period before Ryan put away the game-winner that delivered Gilford its first field hockey title since 1998.

Having the same goaltender for another season – and hopefully two more after this one – is a luxury that Coach David Rogacki is not taking for granted.

“It’s the first time in the seven years I’ve been here that we have the same goalie coming back,” he said.

There a couple of big holes to fill in front of DeLucca with the loss of Kaitlyn VanBennekum and Hannah Sullivan to graduation. Those two started every game last fall at defense for Gilford. Rogacki said this year’s defensive corps will include three sophomores and a freshman.

Most of the experienced players are back to anchor the offensive end.

“I’m hoping the offensive kids can keep the ball moving while the defense gains experience,” Rogacki said.

Gilford’s first test comes Wednesday when it hosts Bishop Brady at 4 p.m. The Giants were knocked out of the tournament in the first round at the hands of Pelham.

The Golden Eagles soared through the regular season to a 12-1 record. Only Monadnock survived the regular season without a loss, but failed to get by Pelham in the semifinals. Gilford took a first-round bye and then dispatched Hopkinton, 4-1, in the quarterfinals.

Gilford survived a tight semifinals match with third-seed Newfound, 2-1, in a competition of sharpshooters against strong goaltending at both ends.

The experience of going through a playoff run like that is invaluable to the up-and-comers on the team.

“The nice thing about it is I had such great personalities with the kids,” Rogacki said. “They’re very good listeners. It’s a neat thing when you can put freshmen and sophomores in the game and then you look to your bench and your seniors are there. We were able to blend the seniors with younger kids, so it’s not like we’re completely starting over here in August.”

“We lost half of that team, but at the same time the half that we still have got to learn last year,” he said. “We’ve built this culture now, and they know and understand the amount of work that has to be done to get back there again.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter