This time last year, the Warwick Vets field hockey was just happy to be back in Division II after two rough years in the state’s top league. There was still work to do, and the Hurricanes still had to learn how to win.
A year later, the ’Canes have their footing in D-II.
And they won’t just be happy to be there.
“We ended the year really strong last year,” said head coach Jim Areson. “If we had made the playoffs, we were playing really well and I think we could have gotten to the semis. Basically, that team is back this year. I’m expecting playoffs, particularly with the run we went on at the end of last year.”
The ’Canes lost a few key players to graduation, including all-division pick Jenna O’Connell, but the bulk of the team is back in the fold – and ready to start something special. The ’Canes have 31 players on the roster and only one senior. Most of the players are juniors.
That could mean big things down the road at the very least – and maybe big things right now.
“In 2004, I had a great group of juniors and we made the semis,” Areson said. “The next year, we won it all. I have 14 juniors this year. If you’re with me for a couple of years and you do everything I ask you to do, good things are going to happen for the team.”
The ’Canes already have something to build on. They opened last season with five straight losses. Once they broke the seal, they played at a .500 clip the rest of the way, finishing at 5-10-1 and narrowly missing out on the playoffs.
As the ’Canes try to take the next step, they’ll be relying on many of the same players who led the resurgence.
In the back, Naomi Franzen returns as the starting goalie. She moved to the position last year and embraced it.
“She’s a gamer,” Areson said. “She’s definitely going to build on last year.”
In front of her, the defense will be led by juniors Lauren Vuz, Sam Harris and Katie Steer, with sophomore Arietta Chevian sliding in as the sweeper.
“On defense, we’re going to be solid,” Areson said.
In the midfield, the ’Canes bring back junior Savannah Hersey, an all-division performer last year who will play an even bigger role as the center midfielder this year. Flanking her will be junior Taylor Axtmann, who had a strong finish to her sophomore year, and junior Gabby Korlacki. Sophomores Ruth Rodriguez and Eunice Tejada are also in the mix.
Up front, the team’s captain and only senior, Allison Stopyra, is ready to lead the attack.
“She scored her first varsity goal in the second-to-last game last year,” Areson said. “She’s looked good in practice. I’m looking for her to continue that progression.”
Megan Lemay, Lexy Santos-Smith, Leah Morgan and Emily Furtado are also back in the fold, and Areson is looking for more scoring punch from that unit. The ’Canes had their struggles scoring goals last season.
“Defensively, we’re going to be fine,” Areson said. “It’s just about scoring. If we can average two goals a game, we’re going to be in good shape. We’ll create opportunities. It’s just all about finishing.”
The ’Canes will play in Division II-South this season, along with Chariho, Cranston East, Rocky Hill and Toll Gate. The other sub-division features three-time defending state champion Smithfield, as well as field hockey newcomer La Salle.
“This year, I told them I feel we should win our division,” Areson said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a really dominating team in D-II. I can see us doing the same thing we did last year. I see us progressing, getting hot towards the end. Once we get to the playoffs, we’ll see what happens.”
Vets will open the regular season on Wednesday, Sept. 11 against Cranston East.