Stuck in D-I, Pilgrim still upbeat and ready to go
Division I hasn’t been kind to the Pilgrim field hockey team the past two years, and year three of the D-I experiment might not get a lot better when it comes to wins and losses.
Yet, with their hands bound by a formula based on winning percentage and enrollment that has prevented them from moving back to D-II, the Pats have no choice but to play the schedule as it is.
And they plan to make the best of it.
After winning three games each of the past two years, Pilgrim figures it will be in a similar boat this year, but head coach Nisa San Giovanni sees the potential for a few more victories on the schedule.
“The only thing I can do is try to get my kids as toughed up and fit and as ready to roll as we can,” San Giovanni said. “We’ll see what happens. There’s going to be five or six games where we could be competitive.”
In a division with traditional powers like Barrington, Moses Brown, Bay View, East Greenwich, Lincoln School and North Kingstown, it would take quite a bit to fall in its favor for Pilgrim to compete near the top.
But the Pats are realistic, as even their wins last year came against Warwick Vets and Cumberland, both of which have dropped down to Division II. While Pilgrim was expecting to drop to D-II as well, they’re now just hoping to get the most out of what they have.
“We may not get a lot of wins, but we’re going to have a lot of kids who are going to have some fun moments,” San Giovanni said. “We’ll have a lot of kids with a chance to score.”
Realignment added a few new schools to the mix, including Tiverton, South Kingstown and Woonsocket, and San Giovanni thinks games against those teams might be some of the most competitive.
But in order to be competitive at all, Pilgrim will have to rely on a number of its players to pick up the slack this season for the graduated Susie Cavanagh, a First-Team All-State player who scored nearly every goal for the Pats a season ago.
With Cavanagh no longer there to take matters into her own hands, the rest of the team will have its opportunity – and the responsibility – to get the ball into the cage.
“We were just talking about that with the kids,” San Giovanni said. “We had a couple of kids make great plays on corners. I got them all fired up. I said, ‘Last year you had a superstar, and the rest of you kind of sat back and watched Susie play. Now we’ve got five or six kids, and five or six of you together is better than one Susie.’ I think they all realize they can step up now.”
Pilgrim lost three other players – Emma Kunz, Mikaela Boucher and Brianna Boucher – to graduation, but return a bunch of others with significant experience.
A number of the players have also played field hockey in the Moses Brown summer league, and it’s paid off in the early going.
“They seem enthusiastic,” San Giovanni said. “We don’t have to start from square one.”
At the head of the of returners is senior Julianna Mollo, who played a lot of defense a year ago but will likely play in the midfield or the center halfback position this season.
“Ice hockey player, plays both sides of the field well,” San Giovanni said of Mollo. “She’ll be taking a lot of our corners. She’s a good all-around athlete, understands the game.”
Five other seniors also return for the Pats, and they’ll all be expected to contribute.
Kelly Vatter will play on the forward line along with Brianna Florio and Molly Beagan. Vatter could also see time at midfield.
Ami Marks will be a key player in the middle, and San Giovanni has seen Marks’s talent for lacrosse translate to field hockey.
“She really understand the spacing and movement of the game,” San Giovanni said.
Jillian Yehle is another senior, and she’s been out with an illness, but she will be a big part of the defense when she returns to practice.
The junior class is big too, as four players return from the varsity squad last year.
Goalkeeper Courtney Cardoza is back after handling the duties as a sophomore, and she also played in net for the lacrosse team.
“She’s a really solid player,” San Giovanni said. “She’s aggressive, and she loves the sport.”
Also in the junior class is forward Jessica Pope, midfielder Haley Donahay and defender Sarah Reilly.
A few 10th graders should also get on the field immediately, beginning with Ellen McDonald. A standout on the softball diamond this past spring, McDonald is learning the game and has a chance to make strides once she gets a better feel for it.
“She’s tremendous athlete,” San Giovanni said. “She’s going to be a great player as she learns the game.”
The same can be said for Cavanagh’s sister, Chrissy Cavanagh. She’s still learning, but is also expected to have an impact.
Lillian Saran and Dera Silvestri round out that class, as they’ve come a long way in just a year.
“They’ve made a huge jump, being ninth graders who have never touched a stick to where they are now,” San Giovanni said.
The regular season begins on September 4, and Pilgrim gets thrown right into the fire. It plays at Moses Brown on that day, followed by a road game at East Greenwich and a home game with North Kingstown.
Still, San Giovanni will keep pushing her squad.
“Keep the confidence level up,” San Giovanni said. “Try to pull off the win when we can. I’d say between four and six that we have a decent shot at being competitive.”