Pan­thers enter new era un­der head coach Erin Ham­son

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL SPORTS - By KYLE RUS­SELL

The Perryville field hockey team is set for a sea­son of change, as Erin Ham­son steps in to re­place two-time Coach of the Year Janet Candy.

The changes from 2015 are not lim­ited to the side­lines ei­ther, as Ham­son will need to find a way to re­place All-County se­lec­tions at each po­si­tion — for­ward Kyleigh Knell (13 goals, 11 as­sists), mid­fielder Ly­dia Hill (two goals, three as­sists), de­fender Kait­lyn Griffin, and goalie La­cie Flores. The four play­ers helped the team to con­sec­u­tive re­gion fi­nals the past two sea­sons.

“The face of the team looks a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,’ Ham­son said. “The 11 ath­letes that we grad­u­ated last year left some really big shoes to fill, both in their lead­er­ship and their skills on the field.”

Lead­ing the re­turn­ing play­ers is All-County for­ward Claire Hud­son, who net­ted five goals to go along with 10 as­sists last sea­son. Hud­son also gar­nered an hon­or­able men­tion Al­lCounty nod as a sopho­more, and looks to con­tinue to build as the cen­tral piece in the Pan­thers at­tack. Class­mate Krissy McDuff re­turns af­ter miss­ing last sea­son with an in­jury, and looks to show­case her great shoot­ing skills.

The Pan­thers of­fense will also be buoyed by a pair of re­turn­ing ju­niors, Aubrey Hill and Emma Cog­gins. Both have shown a knack for cre­at­ing and cap­i­tal­iz­ing on chances, and should bol­ster the mid­field ranks.

At the de­fen­sive end, se­nior Ash­ley Meekins re­turns af­ter be­ing named to the hon­or­able men­tion Al­lCounty team last year. Mada­lyn Wilkin­son takes over in goal for Flores, and has proven to be up to the task in early prac­tices and scrim­mages.

“The re­turn­ing var­sity play­ers have worked tremen­dously hard this pre­sea­son to connect as a team,” Ham­son said. “And to show that they are still here, that they are still a dom­i­nat­ing pres­ence in the field hockey com­mu­nity.”

As for new­com­ers to the var­sity, sopho­more de­fender Emily Sponau­gle was the first name out of Ham- son’s mouth. Sponau­gle saw some var­sity time at the end of last sea­son, but will likely be step­ping right in as a starter on the back line, and should be a tremen­dous as­set to the pro­gram for years to come.

The fresh­men have also im­pressed in the early go­ing with their ath­leti­cism — Ja­dynn Ron­done, Na­dia MaKach and Anna Gib­son. Ron­done, an ac­com­plished gym­nast, is tran­si­tion­ing well to her new sport, while MaKach im­pressed from the time she first stepped onto the field.

“The first time I saw [Na­dia] with a field hockey stick in her hand, I knew she was made to play this sport,” Ham­son said. “She’s a nat­u­ral.”

While 2016 is shap­ing up to be more of a “reload­ing” sea­son than a “re­build­ing” sea­son for Perryville, Ham­son also wanted to stress that their fo­cus is on success be­yond the lines of the field hockey field.

“We want to make sure that our first con­cern is grow­ing young women,” she said. “The success of our pro­gram isn’t go­ing to be mea­sured by our record at the end of the sea­son, but it will be seen when they are 25 [years old] and start­ing their ca­reers, or when they are 30 [years old] and start­ing their fam­i­lies. We want them to know that things in life will not get eas­ier, but it is pos­si­ble to get bet­ter at them with hard work.”

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

Perryville se­nior Claire Hud­son re­turns fol­low­ing an All-County cam­paign.

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