Published: 8/14/2019 9:42:36 PM
SOUTH HADLEY — The thump of a field hockey ball slamming into the back of a cage echoed throughout the turf field at South Hadley High School Wednesday night.
For six weeks this summer, field hockey players from throughout the area participated in the inaugural Western Mass. Summer League – a 7-on-7 league for high schoolers looking to build their skill with preseason camp on the horizon.
The league was the brainchild of South Hadley coach Tara Cole and Greenfield Middle School coach and field hockey official Katie Hopp.
Teams from Greenfield, Frontier, South Hadley, Agawam and Hatfield, as well as a house team consisting of players from a variety of schools, played two games a week throughout the summer. Wednesday’s finale offered an end-of-season double-elimination tournament. In the championship game, the South Hadley Sloths scored late for a 3-2 victory over Greenfield.
“Throughout the state, you’ve got some summer programs like this but we were really missing something like this in western Mass.,” Cole said. “We found this was something that a lot of people were looking for so we wanted to go about filling a niche for a lot of players.”
The inaugural league slate featured over 80 players among seven teams. Players paid $40 for the six-week program, which included pinnies, officials and the use of a trainer.
“It’s an opportunity for players to get out on turf and practice,” Hopp said. “Not everyone can afford camps or elite clubs. This gets players out playing games in a competitive setting, but it’s 7v7 and we’re just looking for them to enjoy themselves before the fall season gets going.”
The teams enjoyed the chance to stay in field hockey shape during the summer months. Frontier senior Cassidy Bardwell said her teammates were more than happy to come down to South Hadley and hone their skills on the turf each week.
“Just being able to pick up sticks and get more game experience is huge,” Bardwell said. “It’s different than captain’s practice. Getting to play games against other teams, it’s a good chance to make yourself better.”
Frontier junior Macy McGhie is hoping to use the summer league as a springboard into preseason camp, which begins next week.
“I was on JV last year, so I’m hoping to get on varsity this year,” she began. “It’s exciting to play with the older girls. You get better playing with better players. I think I’m a step ahead going into (preseason).”
After a successful first year, there’s no reason to believe the summer league won’t grow in size and stature moving ahead in 2020.
“People have been appreciative of the flexibility and our willingness to make it the best experience we can,” Cole said. “Like anything, there are things to critique and build on moving forward but I think we’ve got a good start here.”