High school athletes return to playing fields for fall sports
By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — For high school athletes, fall begins in the heat of summer.
Tryouts began Monday for sports in Niskayuna as in many other area school districts. As potential teammates scrimmaged and sprinted, the wheels turned in their future coaches’ heads.
“We’re definitely on the rebuild,” said Alison Broomhead, who coaches varsity girls’ field hockey at Niskayuna High School. Twelve players graduated last year, including nine of eleven starters for the team. A couple of star players moved on to college, most notably Carrie Hanks, who now plays field hockey for the University of Maryland.
“Our goal is to quickly get our feet on the ground,” Broomhead said.
The youthful outlook for the team didn’t faze Broomhead, whose team made it to the Section II Class A finals last year, where they lost to Shenendehowa.
“We’re definitely going to be a younger, underclassmen type of team,” she said. “I’m excited about fresh hockey players being on varsity and looking forward to seeing what they can accomplish.”
Ellie Petraccione, a junior and likely second-year varsity player, said she looked forward to a new mix of teammates, too.
“It’s new team chemistry,” she said. “Everyone grows together as a team.”
The key to a good season, Petraccione said, would be communication.
“It’s going to be important to talk to each other on the field,” she said.
Broomhead’s baby-faced team will be one of several youthful groups wearing the Niskayuna uniform in the fall season. Varsity football coach John Furey said 15 seniors graduated from last year’s team. This year’s roster of 28 players is almost entirely juniors.
“We’re a very young team, so we are working on the basics,” he said. “I know everybody does that, but we are younger than probably anybody else in the area.”
A greener group of players has its upside, too: Furey said whatever his team delivers this year, fans can expect it’ll be even better next season.
“You’ve got youth, so you can get a good sense for what we need to work on,” he said. “We’ve got two years to develop it, in a sense, and our seniors have really stepped up and done a great job of leading.”
FRESHMAN TEAMS RETURN
Niskayuna sports fans will also notice significant changes in team makeup and smaller rosters.
During the 2013-14 school year, due to budget constraints, freshman teams were cut. That decision left coaches facing a tough decision: take on more players for each team, leaving less playing time for each, or miss out on the opportunity to develop skills in younger players. Most chose to grow their rosters in hopes freshman teams would be returned this year, and it paid off, as freshman teams have been reinstated for 2014-15.
Boys’ varsity soccer coach Joe Carosella said he was glad to have three teams again, rather than just two.
“Our perspective last year was, ‘Do we want to send these freshmen home?’ ” he said. He chose not to, and instead stretched his roster, which meant players took turns warming the bench on occasion.
“You want to be developing kids for the future,” he said. This year, he planned to make minor cuts and build varsity and junior varsity teams of about 23 each.
Tayler Hanft, likely returning to the varsity team for a second year, said he was happy each player would get more time on the field.
“They’ll get to play the game,” he said. “That’s the only way you can improve as a player.”
“I like our chances,” said Alec Hay, a third-year varsity player on the team. “We’re returning most of our attacking players from our starting team.”
The girls’ soccer team, too, faced a changing team composition. With three teams instead of two, there were more spots to go around, and coach Bryce Colby chose not to make any cuts. Colby’s team won the section title last year and lost in the state quarter-finals. He lost a couple of star senior players, and so expects a different chemistry on the field this season.
“You’re going to see a little more balance this year, with a lot of depth,” he said.
Veterans on the team seem poised to take on a leadership role. Senior Stephanie Tate, who plays center back, said even without the threat of being cut from the team, the returning players were working at their highest level during tryouts.
“I know all the seniors want to set the bar and set a good example for the younger girls, so they’re all working hard,” she said.
Tate said her team was ready to deliver an exciting season of soccer.
“We definitely want to win sectionals again,” she said. “Winning regional finals would be the best way to finish my career here.”