Switch to forward pays off for Hendry with scoring record

After three years as a starting defender for the Wilton High field hockey team, it was assumed that Jess Hendry would be the backbone of the Warriors’ defense this season.

But the team’s new co-coaches, Toniann Cortina and Liz Pisko, had other ideas. Hendry, with only one career goal, would be moving up to the forward line.

It was a baffling move, at first.

I didn’t understand why. I was frustrated because I did not feel I was effective nor contributing to the team,” said Hendry, one of the team’s four senior captains. “I repeatedly asked to play another position because I thought I could help the team in a different role. The coaches insisted that I played forward. They felt I could score goals, so through the season that is what I focused on.”

As things turned out, the coaches knew exactly what they were doing.

Hendry tallied her 25th goal of the season in Wilton’s win over Staples in the FCIAC quarterfinalson Oct. 25, breaking Amy Drummond’s team season record of 24 goals set in 2009.

Hendry made it 26 goals when she scored in Wilton’s overtime win over Greenwich in the semifinals, which advanced the surging Warriors to the FCIAC title game for the third straight year.

Despite the 3-0 loss to Darien in the finals, the Warriors are peaking at the right time. The same can be said for Hendry, who has erupted for 13 goals in the past seven games.

“The start of the season was rocky, personally and as a team. But we really bonded and supported each other off and on the field. I think that this is one of the best groups of the girls I’ve played with,” she said. “I don’t think people thought we would go as far as we have, but the team has come together and we are excited about the post-season.”

To those who have watched Wilton field hockey in recent years, Hendry’s offensive success doesn’t come as a complete surprise. A skillful and clever ball handler, Hendry had been an integral part of the Wilton offense from the backline with her ability to advance the ball along the sideline and set up scoring opportunities.

Scoring, however, was never something she was required to do.

“In the past, I saw myself as a setup player bringing the ball up and feeding the offense. In this new role, I realized I needed to produce offensively. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be effective in this new position,” said Hendry, who got some help from her older sister Madison, a 2013 WHS graduate and two-time All-American midfielder for the Warriors, who went on to play for the University of Pennsylvania.

Still, the process took some time, and a lot of patience.

“In the beginning it was a real challenge switching from defense to offense. I never played forward and wasn't sure how to play the position,” she recalled. “In fact, in the beginning of the season I was lost. However, after a few games I started to understand the position better and became more comfortable in the role.”

As the season progressed, the goals started to come.

“I focused on simply trying to score goals because that is what forwards do,” she said. “Had someone said that I would break the scoring record I wouldn’t have believed them.”

Jess is the third Hendry to star for Wilton over the last eight seasons. In addition to Madison (who tallied 39 goals and 25 assists in her last two seasons), there is Amanda, a 2015 Wilton grad who was a two-time all-state goaltender and also an All-American. Amanda now starts in goal for the University of North Carolina, currently the sixth-ranked Division I team in the country.

“Having two sisters that were high school All-Americans was good and bad. It made for an interesting backyard game play, but I also felt I was in their shadows,” said Jess, who moved from ice hockey to field hockey in the fifth grade. “But on a positive note, Madison was expected to break the scoring record, but I did it.”

Like her sister Madison, Jess wears the #18 — which also happened to be the number of Amy Drummond, whose scoring record she broke.

Hendry will continue her field hockey career on the D1 level at the University of Richmond. She was recruited as a defender but this fall’s scoring eruption may have expanded her possibilities.

“I just want to play, so now I know due to my recent success in offense I can contribute anywhere on the field,” she said. “But I like being the setup player more than I like scoring.”