BY JIM SCHILTZ
CLIFTON PARK — During Shenendehowa’s run to the 2016 state Class A field hockey championship, Plainsmen coach Jeanne Frevola routinely mixed in some of her reserve players with a star-studded starting cast.
It was all part of Frevola’s master plan to keep kids fresh, and keep a good thing going when those stars went away.
“Sometimes I had them all play by themselves,” Frevola said of those reserves, who will form the nucleus of this year’s team.
Senior goalkeeper Sheridan Messier and senior midfielder Julia Chang are the only Plainsmen back who started full time in 2016. a year that produced a third consecutive Suburban Council title and a second straight Section II championship (and sixth since 2008) for the program. Two other seniors, defender Bridget Shanahan and forward Jenna Graf, started off and on.
“A lot of us seniors have played in the more high-level games,” said Graf, who collected eight goals and five assists as a junior. “I think that will transfer over to the other girls as far as the pace we want to play.”
Shenendehowa wants to play fast and effective, move the ball and create scoring opportunities, with its almost all-new starting lineup that will include senior defender Kelli Russo and senior forwards Eliza Branch and Julia Shanahan.
“We had a deep team last year and that was a strength,” Branch said. “In practice we [the reserves] would play against the starters. In a way that helps us for this year.”
Messier said the team – a blend of 10 seniors, six juniors and two sophomores – has been sharp in preseason workouts.
“From what I gather our passing has looked pretty good,” Messier said. “If we continue to pass, we’ll get around defenses and score. If we continue to work together, we’ll get places.”
Frevola said her team came into the preseason in great shape and eager to work.
“They look good,” Frevola said. “We’ll find our more on Saturday when we scrimmage Lakeland. If we can hold our own with them …”
Lakeland won its eighth consecutive state Class B title last season while Shenendehowa claimed its second Class A banner in four years with a 21-0 record. Gone from that nationally-ranked team are nine seniors, including: Kelly Buckley and Carli Pelletier, who scored the goals in a 2-1 state title-game win over Scarsdale; Taryn Marra, whose insert passes on penalty corners led to those goals; and defenders McKenzie Woerner and Morgan Bronk, who helped keep the ball away from Messier for most of that contest.
Nicole Picchi, who scored the double-overtime goal when Shenendehowa clipped Saratoga Springs 1-0 for the Section II title, has graduated as well.
“The senior class we graduated was huge, but no one was just sitting around,” Messier said. “Other girls played a lot. We’ve got girls who play under-19 [club] and have varsity experience. Everyone’s skills are high.”
Frevola added some youth to Shenendehowa’s varsity roster just before the 2016 playoffs when she called up five sophomores from an undefeated junior varsity team.
“They got the feel the pace and what it’s all about,” Frevola said. “It was 28 days of playing and playing with varsity athletes.”
Last season Shenendehowa competed in its seventh straight Section II Class A final and its ninth in 11 years. In 2015 Shenendehowa reached the state semifinals.
“We have a huge target on our back as the state champion,” Graf said. “Most people want to take us down. It’s a big challenge but we’re definitely looking to go back to states. We’re going to put as much effort into it as we can and hopefully reach our full potential. I think we have a good chance to get another Section II title and get there. ”
Frevola, who guided Hoosick Falls to the state Class B title in 1987 to go with her two crowns at Shenendehowa, said it’s a step-by-step, day-by-day process.
“You want to get better and better and peak at the end,” Frevola said. ” You want to build it up. We did that last year. We got to the sectionals and we played at a different level.”
Shenendehowa defeated Bethlehem before edging Saratoga Springs in the 2016 sectionals, and beat Maine-Endwell and Ward Melville before topping Scarsdale in the New York tournament. It is a close-knit group that is hoping to add to the high school’s field hockey legacy.
“We are best friends, and that helps so much out on the field,” Branch said. “You’re out on the field and it’s, ‘I’ve played with you for 10 years. I know where you’re going to run.'”
None of the Plainsmen would guarantee a repeat of last year, but they are hopeful and willing to work. Their season begins Aug. 30 at Shaker, one of four teams that took them into overtime last year.
“There’s a fine line between confident and cocky, and we can’t cross it,” Messier said. “If you get cocky you make mistakes that can be costly.”