Field hockey preview: Veteran Wilton squad poised for another title run

With 13 players back who saw significant playing time a year ago, including nine starters, the Wilton High field hockey team begins the season today in familiair territory — as one of the team’s to beat in the FCIAC and state.

The Warriors, who host Ridgefield today at 4 in the season opener, are coming off an 18-5 season that ended in the Class L championship, their fourth state title in five years. They wound up the season as the top-ranked team in the state in the final Hartford Courant Coaches’ Poll.

After today's game against the Tigers, who gave Wilton a battle in last year's FCIAC quarterfinals, the Warriors travel to play defending New York state champ Mamaroneck on Saturday (4) and play at Brien McMahon on Monday night (7).

One things Wilton won’t lack is experience. It is probably the most veteran and experienced squad in program history — eight seniors and seven juniors make up the varsity roster of 17. A majority of the players are in their third or fourth years of varsity play.

“Having a large returning varsity group and eight seniors has definitely helped us prepare in the preseason. Most of us have played together so we already have team chemistry and a unanimous goal of winning a title,” said senior co-captain Meredith Rappaport, a two-time first-team all-FCIAC pick at center back. “A majority of our team has played in a state and FCIAC championship game and knows how important every practice is to claiming a title.”

Wilton does have some holes to fill, as it graduated two all-FCIAC players in goalie Amanda Hendry and midfielder Jillian Mahon, both playing on the D1 collegiate level, along with starting forward Maddie Duffy and Kat Campbell, a key player on offense.

The big hole is replacing Hendry in goal. A second-team all-American last season, she now playing for North Carolina, the top-ranked college team in the country. Vying for the job this season are two returning players, senior Erynn Fray and junior Emma Likly.

But with all three defensive players back, and seven to eight players back on the midfield and forward lines, Wilton has the talent and depth to match any team.

“Although we did graduate several key players last year, (with) having a majority of the team returning I believe that we do have an advantage,” said senior midfielder/forward Bridget Ward, the team’s other co-captain and another returning first-team all-FCIAC player. “We are working hard towards another successful season. We all have a chemistry together and have similar goals to accomplish this season.”

The Warriors are still unclear about exactly where players will be on the field; head coach Deirdre Hynes has been absent this week due to a death in the family, and the team has been practicing without a coach for several days. In the past, Hynes has stressed versatility, with players able to move in and out of the lineup at several positions, and playing multiple roles.

Ward and Rappaport are both four-year varsity players, as are two other seniors on the front two lines — Gwen Hall and Delaney Chase. Over their three years thus far, those four have helped Wilton compile a 56-11-1 record, reach three state title games (two titles) and two FCIAC title games.

Senior Caroline Ferro, who emerged last year as an explosive force on offense, is also back on the attack, along with senior Susan Clasby, a key player at forward off the bench a year ago.

The forward line also returns starter Emma Rosen, an all-FCIAC East Division pick last year who is a spark-plug on offense. It was Rosen who scored the game winner in Wilton’s 3-2 overtime win over top-ranked Darien in the state playoffs last season.

The team returns its defense intact, with the the backline of Rappaport and two juniors, Jess Hendry (already a two-year starter) and Molly Thomas, and midfielder Sophie Kaplan (all-FCIAC East last year) — although it’s unclear where players will be this season. Another key returning player is senior Katie Leffel, also saw significant time last year on defense.

Rounding out the seemingly endless corps of contributors returning are juniors Molly Ward and Madeleine Pagliaro and talented sophomore Emma Rothkopf. The only new player this year is freshman Olivia Hahn.