Last Wednesday was not a happy day for the West Springfield field hockey team. After storming through a 13-2-1 regular season that saw them finish atop the highly competitive Patriot District, the Spartans watched their long-awaited district title hopes melt away with a 1-0 overtime loss against T.C. Williams in their district tournament semifinal.
Still, the heartbreaking defeat didn’t mean their season was over. If anything, it spurred them to bounce back with vengeance and set their sights even higher. Given the Patriot District’s No. 3 seed, the Spartans began their quest for a bigger trophy in the 16-team Northern Region Tournament this past week.
Locked in a tough back-and-forth battle on their opponent’s home turf, West Springfield fought hard to find openings in Marshall’s sturdy defense during the regional tournament’s opening round Tuesday night. Just over five minutes into the second half, Brittan Muir finally found that opening. The sophomore midfielder settled a low pass and ripped a shot into the back of the cage to propel the Spartans to a 1-0 victory.
“I was so excited,” Muir said. “We’d had such a great team effort just trying to put it in. I got that pass from my teammate and just hit it in the goal, and it was just an amazing feeling.”
Muir might only be a sophomore, but she hardly plays like one. Her extensive background with the sport - including her participation for Rampage Field Hockey - provides her with the experience necessary to stand out as a leader amongst her older teammates.
“[Muir is] a team player,” West Springfield coach Rosina Donaldson said. “She knows when to keep the ball and when to pass the ball off, and she sets up opportunities for her teammates. And as far as being a younger girl on the team, you sometimes don’t want to speak up or you’re nervous, but she’s not really afraid to help the other girls out and tell them where to go or talk to them.”
Muir, who started for the team last season as a freshman, is one of three sophomores on a squad that includes eight juniors and seven seniors, providing a nice mix of youth and experience. They all came together this year to produce one of the most memorable seasons in the program’s history. A 6-1 district record was highlighted by a dramatic 2-1 overtime win against Lake Braddock, a team the Spartans hadn’t defeated since the 1990’s. Those two goals came from junior midfielder Sydney Salter, whose 11 goals this season have complemented the scoring output of senior midfielder Tasy Novopachennaia, who has racked up 13 goals so far this year.
“Everyone has really stepped up,” Donaldson said. “In the past few years we graduated a lot of seniors, so we’ve really relied on the younger girls to step up last year and this year. They’ve learned from the seniors and their awesome leadership, pushing each other really hard every day in practice, and by doing that they’ve made each other better. If you didn’t have a roster you might not be able to tell who the sophomore is and who the senior is.”
Two seniors making an impact on the defensive front are Marissa Trujillo and Helen Tewelde, who have anchored a defense that has surrendered less than a goal per game this year. Their chemistry in the back complemented the steady play of senior goalkeeper Julia Schwabenbauer to keep desperate Marshall attacks from turning into scores late in Tuesday’s game.
The seniors’ improvement through hard work in the offseason has helped turn West Springfield field hockey into a winning program the past couple of seasons. Following a 6-10 finish in her first season at the helm in 2009, Donaldson’s team won a few more games in 2010 before finishing with a 15-4 record in 2011.
Going into Thursday’s second round tilt with Mount Vernon, the Spartans reached the stage that knocked them off last season in a 2-0 loss against Fairfax. Their matchup against the National District champions - which occurred too late for press time - represented somewhat of a break. If West Springfield had advanced as the No. 2 seed, it instead would have met Westfield, the Concorde District champions who have demolished each Northern Region team they’ve faced this season. The Spartans defeated Mount Vernon 2-0 in their first game of the season and tied them 1-1 in another game two days later.
“We’re trying to go as far as possible,” Muir said. “Our team’s built so much this season. We’ve all bonded and we really want to continue on and keep playing together because we have such a great group of girls. Once we all mesh together, there’s just no doubt on our team.”