A new identity paves the way in a successful season for the varsity field hockey team

After a 3-8-2 season and losing one senior after the 2020 season, the varsity field hockey team returned a team of true leaders. Leadership was evident countless times throughout this season, with it being most apparent in their final games. 

“I knew we had a handful of players that I considered leaders and able to steer the team to greatness,” head coach Gabriella Coty said. “After last year’s experience, the team matured and was prepared for the 2021 season.”

To start the season, the team dealt with an intermittent series of wins and losses. In their first five games, the girls struggled but fought through and went 2-2-1. Then, they played Saline. The Hornets got off to a fast start offensively. From that, the Hornets shut down the Forest Hills offensive attack, winning by a large margin. After the loss, the team would take on Father Gabriel Richard from Ann Arbor. Forest Hills had a much-improved game, as they handled the ball and played solid defense. In a low-scoring game, however, the team’s would tie. A 0-1-1 start was not ideal for FH, but the team was seeking the first spark of its season. The girls won their next two out of three games by following an aggressive and fast-paced strategy. In its two wins, both against Rockford, the team played sound defense while putting up some of the best offensive performances of the season. Although Forest Hills was on a hot streak, they would suffer another loss. Ann Arbor Pioneer would stun FH, and the girls would not recover. The offensive attack for the Pioneers was too prominent for Forest Hills. 

In its next two games, the varsity field hockey team would face the two most formidable opponents on its schedule. First, the Pioneers of East Grand Rapids traveled to Ranger stadium to take on Forest Hills. The Pioneers overwhelmed FH from the jump, and the girls could not come back. A bright spot from the game was the goal from senior Brooke Toigo, assisted by junior Shannon Murphy. Forest Hills battled to the end, with the final score reading 7-1 in favor of the Pioneers. After the sizeable loss against EGR, the schedule didn’t get any easier as the girls traveled to Ann Arbor Skyline. Defensive struggles haunted Forest Hills once again, as the Eagles got off to a fast start. Forest Hill’s offensive squad would not be able to keep up with the number of goals that the Eagles were putting up. Abby Almassian and Logan Kirkwood showed outstanding leadership and effort to finish this game. Ann Arbor Skyline would prevail 8-0

After a 2-4-1 start to the season, the team got a few days off to prepare for the three-game week ahead of them. In the four days the team practiced, they made many minor adjustments and started to find a new identity. The new juice the team displayed the rest of the season would result from these practices. 

“We had some of the best practices of the year before the Dexter game,” Shannon said. “We started passing the ball extremely well and talked much more on defense.”

Dexter proved to be a powerhouse when the two teams hit the field. At the end of the half, the Dreadnaughts got out to a fast 5-0 start; it seemed as if FH was in a dead spot. After this first half of this game, the team shined its new identity by playing lockdown defense and turning that into offense. Defensively, in the second half, Forest Hills would not allow a goal thanks to good leadership and communication from seniors Sophie Hartl and Julia Brown, along with sophomore Alayna Gschwind. Forest Hills lost the game 5-0, but the team started to mesh.

“After the Dexter loss, I feel like our team turned more into a player lead team,” coach Coty said. “The team solved any problems it faced, and they made sure to communicate excessively.”

The varsity field hockey team hit full stride after back-to-back close games against Grosse Pointe South and University Liggett. Grosse Pointe South was the team’s first opponent, and that game proved to be a dogfight. In a low-scoring match, Maddie Shaner fired up the team, scoring a goal that would change the game. Although Forest Hills did score, they would not be able to come back from the 2-0 deficit, losing 2-1 to the Blue Devils. In her first start, Lexi Slywka was the team’s goalie and recorded four saves. Right after the loss, the girls had to focus on the next game against University Liggett. Forest Hills came out the gate fired up. A new identity was evident as the FH defense was macho while maintaining the ball on offense. Logan Kirkwood led the team with one goal and one assist, while Raven Kincaid added another goal. Forest Hills prevailed 2-1 by the dominant goalie play from Lexi Slywka, who had four goals saved. After ending the weekend 1-2, the team found some momentum heading into the late season with a 3-6-1 record. 

With three regular-season games remaining, the girls eyed a rugged end to the season. Remaining on the schedule were the three following teams: Novi, Detroit Country Day, and East Grand Rapids. First, the team traveled to Novi to take on the Wildcats. The Wildcats came into the highly anticipated matchup with a high-powered offense. The Forest Hills defense struggled at times this year; however, it significantly slowed down the Wildcat attack. Maria Jacobs and Brooke Toigo led the force on the defensive end. Although the defense played aggressively and communicated well, it was not enough to overcome the offensive drought the team suffered. As a result, forest Hills struggled to get shots on the cage, which resulted in a 3-0 loss. 

After the loss, the team had only a few games left in the regular season. One final game at Ranger Stadium would be comforting for the six seniors. The Senior Night contest was against Detroit Country Day. With more than a week to prepare, the team came out sharp and prepared. Although the defense was forced on its heels most of the game, it communicated like crazy. It only resulted in two shots for the Yellow Jackets. Julia Brown and Sophie Hartl held down the defense, not allowing a goal all game. The one goal all game came from Brooke Toigo, with Abby Almassian assisting the shot. Forest Hills would prevail on Senior Night 1-0. 

In the last stretch of the season, the final two regular-season games, Forest Hills would be tested against some highly talented teams. A rematch against arch-rival East Grand Rapids displayed a tremendous amount of progression. The previous matchup did not go so well for the girls, but it was a totally new team. Defensively, the girls continued the trend of “bend doesn’t break.” Sophie Hartl dominated both sides of the ball, scoring a goal and stopping one as well. In the end, Forest Hills would lose 3-1 in a game that was closer than the score. But, again, it was evident that FH was a much better team and that they had new “juice.”

“We definitely improved from the first EGR game to the second one,” Julia Brown said. “We passed the ball better, and we overcommunicated on defense which was a huge win for the team.”

Forest Hills headed into its last game of the regular season with a 4-8-1 record and had another worthy opponent to face in Ann Arbor Huron. That final game proved to be intense and fierce. Goalie Alayna Gscwind was all over the cage, save after save. Erin Murphy handled the ball well on the offensive end. Logan Kirkwood got a fast break opportunity and capitalized on it, giving FH some much-needed energy. In the end, Forest Hills’ defense could not carry the load; Ann Arbor Huron defeated Forest Hills 2-1. 

As they headed into the postseason, the girls were exhausted. However, their hearts were still there. Revenge has been a word this team has focused on all year, so the team would bring copious amounts of energy when they faced off against Ann Arbor Pioneer. In their previous matchup, the Pioneers dominated, winning 8-0. But that game was played almost two months before the playoff game. Unfortunately for FH, the team struggled early and had to claw its way back. Two goalies played in that matchup, with Paige Fron having five saves and Alayna Gschwind saving six shots. Maria Jacobs and Sophie Hartl were all over the field, making it hard for the Pioneers to get ball movement. Cami Kell and Shannon Murphy displayed excellent passing, but no passes resulted in goals. Forest Hills struggled early in this game, which resulted in a 7-0 loss.

The team finished with a 4-10-1 record on the season. Although the team displayed an average record, coach Coty was impressed with how her players showed significant improvement to end the season. 

“They [the girls] battled and fought all year long,” coach Coty said. “I was really proud of how the seniors led the team and basically took over in the final games.”