Courtney Cardoza came out for field hockey in her freshman year at Pilgrim and liked it immediately. As soon as she stepped between the pipes as the Pats’ goalie, though, it would have been easy for the bloom to fall off the rose.
Cardoza has spent her entire career on a Division I team that doesn’t quite belong in Division I. As a result, she sees more shots than any goalie in the state. In some games, it’s a barrage.
But it doesn’t get old.
“I always want to make the save,” Cardoza said.
And she likes field hockey just as much now as she did four years ago.
“We have a lot of fun,” she said. “I think it’s because we all join together and we just say, ‘Let’s go do this. Let’s have some fun.’”
Cardoza’s perspective mirrors that of her team. A run of steady success in Division II plus the school’s enrollment numbers were enough to send Pilgrim to the state’s top division in 2010. It was a struggle from the start as the Pats – with players who had been around the sport only since the start of high school – tried to compete with schools that have feeder programs. Despite the obvious, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League kept Pilgrim in Division I through a realignment cycle before the 2012 season.
But the Pats – and players like Cardoza – have learned to make the best of it. Their careers may not include a lot of wins, but that doesn’t put a damper on the experience.
“It’s tough, but we know what to expect,” Cardoza said. “We come out and say, ‘We’re going to do our best here, and whatever happens, happens.’”
Cardoza’s play in the cage has helped the cause as the Pats try to do what they can against the tough slate. She became the starter in 2011 and has been there ever since, providing at least one stabilizing presence for a team that has had to break in a lot of new players while playing in a tough landscape.
“She does a good job,” said head coach Nisa San Giovanni. “She’s seeing a lot of shots but she doesn’t get discouraged. She doesn’t take it as the end of the world. She’s got a great work ethic and she’s a leader for the girls.”
Cardoza plays in the off-season with Lead the Way field hockey, and she’s poised to have her best season this year. It’ll be her last hurrah and she wants to make the most of it.
“As of right now, I don’t think I’ll play past this, but it’s been a good run,” she said. “It’s fun.”
Cardoza will have her pads strapped on tight as she gets ready for another season full of shots coming at her from every direction. In addition to her competitiveness and her desire to make every stop, she and the Pats view their toughest games as an opportunity.
“I think of it as really good practice,” Cardoza said. “There are teams that are really good and then there are teams that we’re on the same level with. With them, it’s a better battle. There’s a lot of good shots with the really good teams so we get a lot of practice out of that. Then we can use that in our other games. We’re better for it.”
The Pats hope to come away with a few wins this year. Whatever happens, Cardoza will make a lot of saves along the way – and she’ll enjoy every minute of it.
“This season, we’re hoping to get a few wins in there,” she said. “Like they always say, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you have fun. That’s what this is all about.”