Bishop Ireton freshman Annie McHugh has never played field hockey in her 14 years, but shes in good company as a member of the high schools first squad in two decades.
Few girls practicing on Luckett field Tuesday night had ever picked up a field hockey stick before the team started practice two weeks prior. For McHugh, who joined the squad out of interest in the sport and hopes of making friends before starting school, the lack of experience takes some of the pressure off.
If there was a lot of girls that played before, it would be more intimidating, but it seems like everybody is on the same level, she said, decked out in goalie pads for practice.
But for head coach Erin Simons and assistant coach Betty Sixsmith, Simons; mother, its part of the challenge of building a new athletic program from scratch.
Its been an exciting experience, especially for the girls, Simons said. I would say we have to start from the ground up. They dont have any background knowledge of the sport. Some have never picked up a stick before.
Ireton offered field hockey briefly after the school went coed in 1990. The squad went 1-4 in their opening season, said athletic director Bill Simmons. Records arent available for the teams second season, but it was the programs last.
Competition for field space with football and soccer doomed the program, Simmons said, and the school replaced the sport with volleyball. In the years since theres been steadily growing interest in field hockey.
Flash forward to 2006 when the school put together a parent-led field hockey team. The squad never saw any games, but it was evidence of the sports increasing popularity at Ireton, Simmons said.
When the school had the opportunity to reach an agreement with the city to use the currently unfinished Witter Field complex for field hockey and soccer in 2012, they jumped at it, Simmons said.
The job now facing the schools mother-daughter coaching team is getting a molding a squad of first time players into a varsity program. They will play an abbreviated schedule this year, instilling the girls with the skills, strategy and athleticism the sport demands.
Its not going to be easy for either the coaches or players, Sixsmith said.
For a varsity program, theyre going to take their lumps, she said. Thats our goal, just get better. As a team, well progress.
The Cardinals earned their first lumps a week ago, in a scrimmage with cross-town rivals St. Stephens and St. Agnes, one of the top field hockey teams in the region. Though coaches worry the girls might become discouraged, goalie Kate Spata, one of the few with a field hockey background, called it a learning experience.
Its weird because were a lot of beginners and were going against teams that have been together for years, the 14-year-old freshman said. It was hard being the goalie and having them shoot on us.
Beyond learning the ins and outs of field hockey, Simons believes the teams likely challenging inaugural year will give her players a taste of what lies beyond the walls of the Cambridge Street private school.
I think its a life lesson, Simons said. In life, you learn not everything is fair. We didnt expect them to be St. Stephens and St. Agnes.
Thats not to say either coach will look forward to sending them in for a shellacking every time the newly formed squad takes the field. Even so, McHugh walked off the field with a sense of pride.
I kind of expected not to do so well against them, she said. I felt better because I got to play people other than our teammates. I felt kind of accomplished.