St. John’s field hockey team fosters culture of self-belief

The St. John's field hockey team is seeking its third straight WCAC title. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

Typically when sports teams are asked about expectations for goals, players and coaches voice cliches about “taking one day at a time,” “focusing on the next practice” or “trying to be the best.”

Members of the St. John’s field hockey team had no such equivocation. Asked if they thought they could win the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference for a third straight year, they answered clearly and promptly in the affirmative.

“You have to believe, or what are we here for? Our whole thing is these girls have gotten the program to where it is because they believed in something that nobody else in the area believed in,” Cadets coach Corey Kelly said. “You have to believe that every day is going to be your best day of practice. You have to believe that every game is going to be your best game. And you have to believe that you are going to win on the big night where it counts the most.”

The St. John’s field hockey team was the WCAC champion in 2015 and 2016. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

Kelly has created a culture of belief for the St. John’s field hockey program since she took over in 2014, when the team was an afterthought in the WCAC.

Since then, the Cadets captured back-to-back league championships in 2015 and 2016 to establish themselves as the team to beat in the conference.

“The year that we first got to the championship we truly believed that we were going to get there even when nobody else thought we would be there,” said Kelly. “The girls have this belief in each other and in this program, and it’s what makes them as good as they are.”

Despite needing to replace a slew of graduated seniors in key roles this season, the Cadets have started strong — posting a 7-1 record while outscoring opponents 30-4 this year.

“We lost a lot of really good players from last year,” senior forward Beth Cornelius said. “What has been really key this year is we have had a lot of younger players step in and fill those roles. They have improved every single game and made a strong impact on our team.”

So far the sophomores who have stepped into more prominent roles have been forward Lillian Kistner, forward Ashley Viglione, defender Ellie Shea and forward Rosie Kelly.

“We moved some positions around to fill in from the huge senior class we graduated,” the Cadets coach said.

Junior midfielder Clara Morrison is committed to play at Syracuse University. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

The team has been able to weather the changes easily thanks to strong leadership from their captains — Cornelius, senior defender Erin O’Connell, senior defender Stephanie Heffron and junior midfielder Clara Morrison.

“I ask a lot of my captains,” said Kelly. “They do it with grace and really lead the team. They are all leaders on and off the field. They do a good job in the summer, and the girls respect them. They do a good job where they have highest of expectations placed on them and they exceed them.”

Of the captains, Morrison is the first non-senior under Kelly’s regime.

“She will play at Syracuse, and she is one of the best players in the area. She is technically and tactically sound,” Kelly said. “She just makes the whole game flow and does things that I can’t even verbalize for us to do.”

Overall the team’s offense has had a pretty balanced stat sheet with several athletes scoring. Morrison currently leads the team with nine goals. Junior Ellen Palmiere has seven, Cornelius has six, and Heffron has five. “Every player has a huge impact. It’s not just one person carrying the load,” said Heffron.

Meanwhile, the team’s backbone is its defense, anchored by senior goalie Maya Lewis. St. John’s has allowed just four goals in eight games.

Despite its early success, the team knows it will have to stay diligent to reach its ultimate championship goals later this fall.

“We don’t take any game for granted. We know we have to go into every single game working our hardest to win,” said Morrison.

The Cadets will look to improve their record when they host Bishop Ireton today at 4 p.m.