Almquist Pleased with Field Hockey’s Fall Progress
It’s now been more than a year — Nov. 1, 2019 against Richmond — since the Davidson field hockey team has played an actual game.
Given the 2020 context, that’s easy to believe, of course. But it’s still surreal in many ways for coach Zoe Almquist and her team.
Regardless, the Wildcats have been making progress. Without games on the schedule, they have put all of their effort into training. They have practiced throughout the fall, while adjusting to COVID-19 protocols and gradually worked from socially distant skill work to essentially game-level scrimmage sessions.
“It feels like a long time since we’ve tested ourselves against someone else,” says Almquist, now in her second year as head coach. “But within that vacuum, I feel pretty optimistic about the level we’re playing at.”
Last Friday, the Wildcats put on their game uniforms for their weekly scrimmage at Carol Grotnes Belk Turf Field. The coaching staff wanted to simulate a game day experience as much as possible.
“The atmosphere was intense and felt like a real game,” says senior Valerie Hajek, one of three Wildcats to score four goals last year. “Putting on our uniforms reminded us of what we are working towards and motivated us to play as hard as we would in an A-10 game.”
This week, Davidson is holding multiple competitions in practice, including everything from running to skill work to minute-to-win-it contests. Next week will be mostly pickup hockey to essentially wrap up the fall.
“I think that overall, our team’s spirit, enthusiasm, and competition have stayed high, all things considered, during this time,” says junior Chloe Appleby. “We are an overall very spirited group of girls, and I think having field hockey as an outlet and support system this semester has been very good for all of us.”
Seniors McGee Roman and Nellie Turnage are the top returners for a team that returns nine regular starters. Almquist says Roman is so steady and dependable, while Turnage is likely the most talented Wildcat. Sophomore Caroline Wack has improved steadily since last year and figures to play a more significant role in her second season. In all, six returners started all 19 games last year, with seven others starting at times.
And the Wildcats have added a freshman class of 10, including three international players, two from the Netherlands and one from Germany.
If there’s a positive from the circumstances this fall, Almquist says it’s been that the team has had more time to become a cohesive unit. Instead of having a few weeks to prepare for playing games and learning on the fly, they’ve had the chance to more methodically build a foundation.
“In some ways, it feels like a chance to sort of catch up compared to other programs,” she says. “You always feel a step behind when you’re coming in (as a new coach) and trying to get your feet under you with recruiting, and team culture and team expectations, skills, tactics, all these things.”
Almquist has seen signs of progress. This year, the staff has taught on a deeper level, with the goal of expanding everyone’s hockey IQs.
“The kinds of conversations we’re having have changed,” she says. “We’re not answering major questions any more. We’re answering fine-tuning questions.”
The Wildcats have been active off the field this fall as well, running a fundraiser 5K, contributing squares to the college’s COVID-19 quilt and learning about social injustice. They have conducted mini research projects, competed against one another in trivia and ran a team “cake race” since the college’s annual one was canceled.
All in all, the Wildcats have made the most of their opportunities during a challenging fall no one will soon forget.
“I think that by rolling with the punches and continuing to train hard this fall, we have prepared ourselves for the spring season, and all of the challenges and joys that will come with it,” says Appleby.