The game is still two weeks away.
But this one can’t be over-anticipated.
On September 26, Bernadette Gannon will return to Suffern to face the team that became the first school from Rockland County to win a Section 1 field hockey championship in 29 years.
That was last fall and she was at the helm.
But after building Suffern into a team for today and tomorrow, she was gone.
Nineteen years of coaching the Mounties, then shown the door. District policy appears black and white. You can coach a team to the world championship – if there were one in high school field hockey – but if you aren’t otherwise employed by the district you will be out if an in-house employee wants the job.
Two did, Gannon was told.
She still doesn’t know who they were.
After her dismissal, she said, her assistant, Gaby Somma, applied because she didn’t want a stranger taking over.
Now Gannon will return to Suffern with her new team, Clarkstown North, a former rival with smaller numbers and, historically, not the same talent pool.
Gannon (pictured talking to her Clarkstown North team at practice) won’t be a stranger, of course. Far, far from it.
These were her kids, her program. Her daughter, Kaity, is a freshman on
Suffern’s junior varsity.
She’ll coach this year in the unusual role of underdog and a role she never could have foreseen at Suffern – outsider.
The Rams had just four wins last year so the odds are stacked against them.
But, win or lose or draw, tears will flow.
That’s a sure bet for both sides.
“You do the best job you can and you’re asked not to come back,” Gannon said, while putting her new team through practice recently.
“It was aheart-breaker but I’m very happy. They’ve been so open. They filled my heart back up with love for the sport again,” she said of her Clarkstown North kids.
And so the venue has changed and so have the expectations – to a point.
North isn’t supposed to be in the mix for a championship but don’t expect it to have only four wins at season’s end.
Gannon, who wants her kids to remember this year for what they did on the field and not for how they acquired a new coach, has told them, “If you train like top teams you’ll play like a top team. You work hard and it’ll pay off.”
One of the players on whom Gannon will rely is Arielle Gershonovitz (pictured shooting at practice).
Gershonovitz noted she has had three different coaches in four years.
“Every year is different,” she said, although noting the common denominator has been her team’s underdog status.
“We always try to be competitive,” said Gershonovitz, who noted North will do that with a totally revamped squad, since it lost 12 players to graduation and is now rich with last year’s junior varsity.
“Everyone is just trying to adjust. It’s a fresh, new start with a fresh team and coach,” she said, adding of Gannon, “I like her a lot. She knows a lot about field hockey and we do something different every day.”
Whether those practices will be enough to beat Suffern is a big question but Gershonovitz, who noted her team hasn’t won against Suffern since she has been on the squad, expects a good game.
“Everyone is going to be real aggressive. We really want to beat them for Gannon and for us,” she said.
Junior defenseman and three-year varsity member Taylor Gorman said of Suffern, “Obviously, we will go as hard as we possibly can to beat hem.”
North made Sectionals last year and Gorman is looking not just for a repeat of that but advancement past the first round.
The Rams were stopped in the first last year by 14-win Scarsdale, 4-0, although Gorman said the game – maybe the best North played all season—was closer than the score indicated.
Gannon points to Gorman, who started playing field hockey in seventh grade, as one of her players to watch, noting she’s quite the rabbit and has endless stamina.
Not surprisingly, Gorman, whose aunt advised her to play field hockey when she was little and her aunt spotted her hitting a ball with a broom, runs track, as well as plays lacrosse.
Senior co-captain Dana Vasil is a defenseman Gannon cites for her on-field communication, big stops and “very, very good game-sense.”
Others who may draw notice during the season include senior forwards Kristina Lucente and Kiara Kirk.
“I’ve always said for years to players that anyone can win on any given day, so why not us?” Gannon said.
Of her new group, she said, “The enthusiasm some days has given me goosebumps.”
Expect goosebumps and more September 26.
Oh, and that day will also be Gannon’s 46th birthday.