This season, Pilgrim is playing some of its best field hockey since it moved to Division I in 2010. Even with a change at the top, it’s continuing.
Longtime head coach Nisa San Giovanni accepted a department head position at the school, and per the Warwick teachers’ contract, that precludes her from coaching more than one sport. San Giovanni will remain as the swimming coach.
For the field hockey team, it was an abrupt change. San Giovanni was at the helm when the Patriots played Warwick Vets on Sept. 16. The next day, when Pilgrim took on South Kingstown, assistant coach Steph Shields was taking over as the head coach and Jessica DiFilippo was joining the program as an assistant.
But the Pats are getting along just fine. They won that game against South Kingstown, and they improved to 3-5 on Friday with a 2-0 victory over Woonsocket.
“The transition has been good,” Shields said. “I’ve been with Nisa for 12 years. I know the girls, and they’re totally on board with it. We’re making it.”
That’s good news, especially since the Pats are in the midst of a resurgent year. Their highest win total since moving to Division I was three in both 2010 and 2011. They went winless last year.
Already this season, they’ve matched that win total, with victories over Tiverton, South Kingstown and Woonsocket.
Those teams are all near the bottom of the standings and Pilgrim still has its difficulties against the state’s powerhouses. But when all is said and done, the Pats could very well find themselves with a playoff berth.
“It’s a good season so far, and we just keep emphasizing to the girls that we have a great chance to make playoffs,” Shields said. “And they’re very excited about that. That’s really what our goal is. Coming from a really tough season last year and the year before, to make playoffs and show we can compete would be great.”
On Friday, the Pats did what they needed to do against winless Woonsocket. Just over a minute into the game, Haley Donahay won a ball in the midfield and slipped it forward. Paula Cavanagh then carried it into the circle and beat the goalie with a hard bouncer for the 1-0 lead.
“Clearly, if we want playoffs, we’ve got to beat the teams that are lower and make sure we get those points,” Shields said. “Woonsocket has improved throughout the season so we had to make sure we took care of business.”
And the Pats continued to do that. Nine minutes in, Cavanagh got loose again and smacked in a shot from the left side to make it 2-0.
Cavanagh, a freshman, has now scored all seven of Pilgrim’s goals this season.
“She makes things happen,” Shields said. “She’s in the right place to get rebounds and know where the ball’s coming. She makes good things happen, and hopefully we build off that and get other kids in the mix too.”
Pilgrim couldn’t add to the 2-0 lead but kept the Novans off the board, even as they made a push in the second half. Defenders Sara Dolan, Sarah Reilly, Lillian Saran and Donahay – who played through two injuries – led a strong effort. In the cage, Courtney Cardoza made big saves when she had to.
“It was great to get those early goals,” Shields said. “It was a little nerve-wracking but we have a strong defense and they did a nice job. And with Courtney, we have a ton of confidence in her.”
Shields would have liked to see a little more offense – with some balance – but she feels the Pats are on the right track.
“We had a lot of shots,” she said. “We’re doing the right things. If you keep doing the right thing, the goals will come. We’ll get there.”
The Pats will try to continue the upward trend this week as they visit 5-3 Bay View on Tuesday and host 2-5-1 Wheeler on Thursday.