The net has been Alexis Kydon’s home since eighth grade. Switching from defense in seventh grade to goal in eighth made sense. Her brother and cousin, after all, were finding happiness as ice hockey goalies.
Quickly, even on a different surface, the happiness was shared.
“I love it,” said Kydon, Nyack’s only goalie last year during its second straight league title run.
The title (shared with eventual Section 1 A champion Suffern last year and won outright by Nyack two years ago) was another feather for coach Cheryl Baker.
Baker, who played field hockey, basketball and softball in high school on Long Island before concentrating on field hockey at Central Michigan (class of 2000), is in her sixth season at Nyack.
In the not-too-distant pass, she had to make do with small numbers — playing games and even seasons with one sub and even no subs.
But this year 17 players are on Nyack’s varsity, ranging from four freshman to six seniors.
With practices already underway for more than a week, new arrivals have come to understand what Baker, a recently-married middle school special ed teacher and Cornwall resident, demands.
“I expect a high level of play and commitment,” Baker noted before Tuesday’s practice. “It takes a special kid in these days and times to make that commitment.’
“I want kids to be very aggressive and go for the ball,” said Baker, who describes a solid field hockey player as someone with a “little bit of everything” – skill, strength, foot speed and smarts.
That sounds an awful like midfielder Erika Viviano.
The junior, who won all-league honors last year, is also poised and has good field vision, according to Baker, who predicted, “She’s definitely someone who’ll make a big impact for us.”
Baker’s also looking for a big year from senior defenseman Moira Ungerleider, a starter since her freshman season, and junior defenseman Jenna Garbett (far left in photo with, left to right, Taylor O’Sullivan, Alexis Kydon and Arleigh Rodgers) another returning starter.
Senior Alanna Falcicchio, who describes her play as aggressive, has played defense beginning field hockey as a seventh-grader in Nyack’s modified program.
But this year, she’ll be asked to contribute more offensively, moving to midfield.
Falcicchio, who plans to play in college (college still to be chosen), wants her squad to approach its games vs. Suffern with the mindset they’re just scrimmages, so that the Indians avoid taking the field “frazzled.”
But Falcicchio appears confident Nyack can defeat Suffern and other squads.
“We all have a diverse group of skills in a strong unit that has come together,” she said.
Saying that her team will still have a “great defensive line,” she added the emphasis will be on “score, score, score.”
A lot of that responsibility will fall on senior forward Taylor O’Sullivan, last year’s top Indians’ scorer.
O’Sullivan, who plans to become a veterinarian and won’t play college field hockey, hopes to end her field hockey career on a high note.
That would mean repeating as league champion and, along the way, beating Suffern twice, she said.
O’Sullivan, who stressed on-field communication and hard work at practice as keys, played soccer through elementary school, then switched in seventh grade.
“I’m totally, 100 percent field hockey. I’ve never regretted the decision,” said O’Sullivan, who was surprised when named to the varsity squad as an eighth-grader.
Much has changed since.
“I’m so much more confident,” O’Sullivan said, noting she had carefully studied other players, trying to incorporate the good parts of their games into hers.
The team’s other O’Sullivan is Andie. She was one of Nyack’s top players last year but is coming back from major injury.
The Naval Academy-bound (she’ll play there) midfielder tore an ACL last March on a lacrosse team scrimmage trip to Florida.
While her Baker says, ‘We will see. Health first,” O’Sullivan has targeted October 10 for her return to game action.
And it’s obvious she’s biting at the bit to start playing.
O’Sullivan, who has also played on varsity since eighth grade, although never having heard of field hockey until seventh, sees much potential in this year’s squad.
“We put our skills to work and we mesh together,” she said, explaining it also has a lot of heart.
Baker hopes the mesh results in continued improvement on both ends of the field.
“We’ve definitely been known as a strong defensive team for a number of years now,” she said. “Several years ago we had a bunch of zero-zero games but we’ve made great strides being an offensive threat. We’re hoping to build on both.”
She doesn’t seem to have any doubts about Kydon, who was pulled up to varsity as a freshman for sectionals.
“Alexis in goal is going to be huge,” Baker predicted.. ” She has good footwork…. She’s able to dive and she communicates well with the defense.”
Of course, Baker would prefer if Kydon doesn’t need to be an acrobatic whiz.
But Kydon, who this year has a freshman back-up in Caileigh Travers, is certainly game for anything.
“I just like diving and splitting… I get the most amazing feeling when I make an insane save,” she said.
Extra bits: There’s much to be said for watching sports played on grass fields. There’s purity, tradition and, well, heck, what’s more fun than players slip-sliding in grass-stained, mud-caked uniforms? But many players and coaches like the new, improved – truer-hop – artificial turf.
This fall, Nyack district voters consider a proposition ccovering turf field construction. Baker has her fingers crossed it passes, noting her field hockey team’s field becomes so torn up during the regular season that post-season games are played elsewhere.
“It’s almost unplayable in October,” said Baker, who noted with many schools having fake turf, she tries to teach turf skills on grass.