Charlotte Latin’s 2012 season would have been deemed a success by most of the state’s field hockey teams. The Hawks went 12-5 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association’s championship before losing 1-0 to eventual state runner-up, Providence Day.
But Charlotte Latin isn’t most programs, and the Hawks aren’t satisfied with merely getting close to state titles.
The Hawks compiled a 68-4 record the previous four seasons and were coming off consecutive NCISAA titles before that loss. They’d also appeared in the state title game in each of the two seasons before they were champions, losing close matches in each instance.
It’s a program used to winning, and this year the Hawks again have high hopes. But they realize getting back where they want to be involves reverting back to the basics of what made them annual state-title contenders.
“I’d say passing is our strength,” said senior Sarah Barry, a co-captain and all-state midfielder. “For the last four or five years, we’ve had really successful teams here mainly because we work really well together. We try to develop that at the very beginning of the season.
“That’s probably the most important thing about our program, is that we try to build really strong relationships at the beginning of the year and that’s what leads to success in the end for us – if we win states or not.”
Barry is one of three seniors – along with all-state midfielder Cannon Clough and all-conference forward Mary Corbin Burlingame – who are looking to get the Hawks back on top.
The Hawks (3-1) began the season with two easy wins, a 6-1 victory over Carrboro and a 7-1 win over Cary Academy, that showed their promise.
However, Clough pointed to the Hawks’ 3-2 loss in strokes to Carrboro on Aug. 24 as a potential turning point, saying she feels her teammates made markedly large strides toward maturing in that game. If Clough’s intuitions are correct, falling to an early-season opponent is something that will serve the Hawks well during the long season and hunt for their third title in four seasons.
“We have a lot of younger girls on our team and it was a good experience,” Clough said. “It was good for them to be a part of overtime and strokes and it was good for them to see what it’s like to be in a pressure game before we get into our conference season and into states.”
Clough seemed prophetic in her assessment as, on the strength of her two goals and two assists, the Hawks rebounded from their only loss with a 5-0 win Aug. 27 over Christ Church Episcopal.
“It’s different, but it’s also really exciting,” Clough said of the Hawks’ inexperienced roster which features just six returning starters. “We do have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, but they’re really skilled. We’re the oldest people on the team, but they’re all really skilled and just as good.
“It’s fun to have people who you can give your knowledge to, but at the same time, they’re really good on the field.”
Several of the Hawks freshmen have made immediate impacts, proving they’re ready to be major contributors after just four varsity games.
Goalkeeper Corbett Foster has allowed just five goals through four games and appears capable of taking over as the anchor of the Latin defense. Forward Camille Kane is tied for second on the team with two goals and Isabelle Sumichrast and Hannah Burlingame have each contributed assists already this season.
“The new girls have all been playing a lot of club and have really been working hard during the offseason, which is awesome and just what we need,” junior Leila Evans said.
Evans leads the Hawks with six goals and two assists, but the junior forward injured her foot in Latin’s loss to Carrboro. She said she hopes to be back in early September. While out, Evans said she hopes her absence will bring the team closer together.
“We had a really close team last year and this year we’re just as close as that and it’s awesome to be a part of,” Evans said. “We’re learning to trust each other and learning the strengths and weaknesses of each player.
“We have a couple of things to improve on, but the changes we need to make are all very minor because the mistakes we’re making are all very fixable.”
Evans and Clough pointed to a number of missed opportunities during their recent loss, but that’s something that will improve with time spent together.
“(In the loss) we had a bunch of really good crosses that were right in front of the goal, but we weren’t able to put them in and it was frustrating,” said Clough, who has two goals and four assists so far this season.
“There’s a little bit of an adjustment time for the freshmen and sophomores to get used to the game. Once you’ve been out there before, the butterflies are still there but they’re not as bad. It helps your confidence and composure to get out there and knowing that it’s a game and you can go out there and have fun.”
Barry said she feels the wins will come as long as the Hawks focus on what’s most important.
“We’ve gotten so much closer this year,” Barry said. “We’ve bonded so far and that’s the thing that’s going to help us the most as the year goes on.”
With their togetherness, leadership from a group of accomplished upperclassmen and a strong contingent of underclassmen ready to prove their merit, it seems Latin is ready to pick up on where they left off.
In order to do so, they’ll have to go through Providence Day – the Hawks’ conference rival and the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoff.
“That playoff game against Providence Day when we lost in the last couple of seconds is definitely motivation for this season for sure,” Barry said. “We know they’re going to be really good again and will give us great competition, but we’re always really excited to play against them.”
Regardless of who the Hawks line up against at any given match, Barry said they have the talent and leadership to walk off the field with their heads held high. And that’s all they need to focus on.
“I’m excited to see how it turns out this year,” Barry said. “We have so much ability and talent that we have to be sure we’re using it all of the time.
“If we can play to our best every game, we’ll be fine.”