Stephen Decatur Field Hockey Program Hits New Heights

Stephen Decatur Field Hockey Program Hits New Heights
Players and coaches on the Stephen Decatur field hockey team are pictured after winning the Class 2A Regional Championship last month. Submitted Photo

BERLIN — Katie Griffin arrived at Stephen Decatur in 2020 inheriting a field hockey program with barely enough players to field a team. The longtime coach wasn’t sure what she got herself into at the time.

Fortunately, Griffin’s daughter, Skylar (a Bayside all-conference player) and other upper classmen recruited some ninth graders to tryout. The team had several girls who’d never even picked up a stick, but guts, patience and attitude allowed the team to persevere through a long season with a vow to improve.

Three seasons later, the 2023 team completed the most successful season in program history culminating in the first playoff victory and followed up by winning the Class 2A Regional Championship. Both victories were extra sweet as they avenged earlier season losses. The Seahawks defeated Easton High School 2-0 at home for the first playoff victory in program history. Ryleigh Smith opened the scoring in the first minute of the game and Emily Ferguson dashed any hopes of an Easton comeback with a late goal, off a slick, entry pass from Morgan Michalski to seal the victory.

Two days later, the girls traveled to Parkside and claimed the title in a 1-0 overtime victory. Despite ample opportunities, Decatur needed the drama as regulation wasn’t enough to solve Parkside. Six minutes into extra time, Avari Shoff finished a great cross from Jilian Burton, setting off a wild celebration.

“The growth has been tremendous and fun to watch,” said Griffin. “We had to build upon last season. With this special group, just beating last year’s record wasn’t a high enough standard. Our mantra was to not settle and to reach for something greater. A no quit attitude that wasn’t fully developed in prior seasons.”

A tough loss to Hereford in the state quarterfinals couldn’t diminish the strides the program has taken over the past few years. Senior defender Rylie Kirby, one of the 2020 freshmen who’d never touched a stick before, said, “we’ve had a strong work ethic and mindset since summer workouts. The freshmen were as committed to winning and improving as the veterans. It made everyone work harder knowing they had to fight every practice for their spot on the field.”

The Seahawks finished with a 10-5 record along with the Class 2A Regional Champion banner. The offense was led by center midfielders/backs Bailey Griffin, eight goals and seven assists, and Ava Snelsire, nine goals, four assists, and forwards Jilian Burton, eight goals, four assists, Ryleigh Smith, 12 goals, two assists, and Avari Shoff, four goals, four assists. The defense was anchored by Grace Short in goal with Rylie Kirby and Abby Melito trying to limit the opportunities. Short collected several shutouts along the way including the two playoff victories.

Griffin said the future is bright despite losing seniors Grace Short, Ashleigh Noonan, Abby Melito, Rylie Kirby and Alayna Spagnola.