HUDSON — Prior to the 2019 season, Kelsey Closen’s advice to her players may have been a mere two words.
The Western Reserve Academy varsity field hockey team featured just 11 players when the season began in August. Therefore, due to their extreme lack of depth, the Pioneers may have emphasized cardiovascular fitness a bit more often than the rest of their opponents.
"We had a lot of seniors graduate," said Closen, who is Reserve’s head coach. "We only had a handful of returning varsity players and our numbers were really low. We started with 11 and then a girl got hurt and we played a few games with only 10."
Those "few games" took place at the end of the season. That’s because WRA lost its starting goaltender, Lucy Maule, to a leg injury.
As a result, the understrength Pioneers had no answers for a deep and talented Hudson team in Reserve’s season finale Thursday at Scott Malson Field.
Despite a valiant effort, WRA fell a bit short against the defending Northeast Ohio Field Hockey League champion Explorers, who earned a 5-1 win. The Pioneers finished 6-6-4 overall and 6-4-2 in the vaunted NEOFHL.
While Closen would have loved to see a few more bodies dressed in hunter green and white, she certainly appreciated her leg-weary athletes’ efforts to persevere in what had been a trying season.
"This year has definitely been interesting," Closen said. "They kept up with really tough teams. I’ve been really proud of them. I think in our first eight games, we went into five overtimes. We’ve always been right there.
"They’re really a tough group of girls and they give it their all every single game. They play every second of every game."
Fortunately, the motivation never seemed to be lacking throughout the fall. Closen was blessed to have players who embraced the neverending grunt work due to a nonexistent bench.
"We had a great group of girls with really great leadership," Closen said. "They support each other. A lot of them have played for the last three years with each other. They’ve been pushing each other to give it their all every single game."
Closen had the unfortunate duty of saying goodbye to six seniors. They are Maule, first-year player Alex Richter, four-year players Julia Clarke and Nini Wong and three-year players Carlin Szilagyi and Nadia Konovalchik. Clarke, Szilagyi and Konovalchik were team captains.
"Alex has picked up the skills," Closen said. "She’s a really good athlete. She’s fast; she’s quick. Carlin is very strong. She brings them all together. She tells people where to go.
"Nadia is a midfielder and we moved her back to defense. She has taken it in stride. She’s really aggressive.
"Lucy has been a huge asset to us. Julia is very, very strong defensively and is very vocal. She’s a three-sport captain, so that says a lot about her. Nini is really strong. She’s feisty and she’s pretty quick.
"Each and every one of them has made an impact on this team."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.