By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Jim McElhatton)
The T.C. Williams field hockey program came out of nowhere last year, making a surprise run in the Patriot District playoffs after an average regular season.
But this year, the squad is no longer overlooked — especially after a September that saw T.C. dominate with six straight shutouts. Going undefeated last month, the Titans clobbered opponents by a combined score of 25-0.
While the impressive streak ended with a 4-1 loss October 1, the Titans picked up another shutout win at home against Lake Braddock on October 3 as a big crowd — many celebrating senior night — cheered from the stands.
“It was a close game, back and forth all night, and both sides had their opportunities, but we held strong,” said T.C. head coach William Heresniak. “It wasn’t the prettiest game, but it was great to get the win.”
Though pleased with his team so far this season, Heresniak pointed out that the Titans are only now regularly facing conference opponents.
“That’s a change of pace for us,” he said. “We’re having to put a complete effort in to get wins.”
Heresniak said the school has steadily improved since starting up a freshman team years ago. He also credited the city’s youth field hockey program for opening up a talent pipeline.
“These go hand in hand with having more girls involved in the sport, which in turn brought the program to another level,” Heresniak said. “As a program, we learned a lot last year. Returning varsity players have been able to bring that level of play to this year’s program. It’s a domino effect, and it’s one important piece to having a successful high school program.”
The learning and experience has paid off, with the Titans setting their sights on a championship.
“We weren’t that well known last year, but we have unfinished business,” said senior forward LauraLee McHugh, referring to last season’s playoff run. “That’s our team motto.”
Through September 26, five Titans, including McHugh, ranked among the top 10 in the Patriot District in scoring, according to the Washington Post. Meredith Caine ranked No. 1 with nine goals.
Perhaps more telling — reflecting the team’s unselfish play — the Titans made up four of the top five leaders in assists, led by junior forward Emily Moncure with nine and senior defender Gianna Knutson with seven.
Senior Katherine Jerakis was tied for third with six goals but added to her total by scoring the lone goal against Lake Braddock last week. Though the Titans scored just once, their offense kept up the pressure, Knutson said.
“What was good was we were pressing into their circle a lot,” Knutson said after the win. “We kept the ball in their circle a huge amount of time. We had multiple scoring opportunities; we just didn’t always capitalize.”
“But we like it when our defense is bored,” Jerakis added.
Jerakis, McHugh and Knutson have been with the program since eighth grade. While always solid, they said the school’s reputation was bolstered thanks to last year’s playoff run.
Several teammates from the playoff team also went on to play in college, which gave a boost of confidence to this year’s crop of seniors. T.C. graduate Emma Bracken, a two-year captain for the Titans, takes the field for Vassar College, and the team’s former all-star goalkeeper defends for Towson University.
“That shows how far we’ve come since we started,” said McHugh. “But really, right now, we have unfinished business. And that’s the only thing on our minds right now.”