READING — After a 6-10-2 (6-8-2 ML) record a year ago, the Reading High field hockey team has reason to feel optimistic this year, including a good response of 62 players who came out for this year’s team.

In addition, 10 returning players give Reading some much-needed experience, which along with eight newcomers could help the Lady Rockets be more competitive this season.

The Lady Rockets, however, will be playing a condensed 10-game schedule exclusively against only Liberty Division teams, which Reading went 2-7-1 against a year ago.

“I’m really excited for us this year,” said third-year Reading coach Taylor Reynolds. “We have 18 players which I feel great about, and with us playing seven vs. seven everyone will get to play a lot. Our make-up is what I’m most excited for. We have several younger players with a lot of enthusiasm, along with many returning experienced players, and I know they will work well together.”

While most of Reading’s experience will be up front, and in its defensive backfield, Reynolds feels the midfield area and in net will be the strengths of the Lady Rockets this season.

“We have some good young midfielders who give us depth there,” said Reynolds, “and we also have a few experienced forwards and defensive backs who will be the catalysts and leaders for us on the field this year.”

The Lady Rockets have an experienced front line with five returning forwards, led by senior captain Caroline Johnson, along with senior former midfielder Grace Cote, and juniors Kate and Jane Ryan, and Maddy Egan. They will be supported by four newcomers, juniors Liv Chamberlain and Caitlyn McKenna, sophomore Meghan Pappo, and freshman Ava Goodwin, to provide added depth up front.

“Caroline (Johnson)’s biggest asset is her teamwork,” said Reynolds. “She a team player who supports everyone on the team and brings everyone up. She’s one of our captains for her by virtue of her hard work, teamwork, and dedication. She’s also a very good athlete who brings a lot of experience to the team.”

With the loss of four midfielders from last year, junior Maddy Rzepka, a defensive back last year, now moves up to provide experience at midfield. She will receive support from freshman newcomers Natalie Wall, Caroline Gallegos, and Lily Stanton to give added depth in this area.

The defensive backfield has some experience with the return of senior captain Caroline Grayson, who was one of Reading’s top defenders last year, along with juniors Brooke Golden and Olivia Ziegler. This group will get some support from junior newcomer Solana O’Shea.

“Caroline (Grayson) is a third-year varsity player who brings a lot of experience to the team,” said Reynolds. “She’s strong, consistent, and a talented athlete who is going to be the anchor in our backfield this year. I’m really excited about her, since she really works well together with the other backs and the midfielders.”

The Lady Rockets will have the benefit of experience in net with the return of third-year senior captain Sophia Avellino. Avellino delivered several fine performances last year including a shutout of Arlington in the season finale, and should continue to provide quality play in net for Reading this season.

“Sophia (Avellino) brings a lot of strength and composure to the field,” said Reynolds. “She made some key saves for us in net the last two years, and now this is her time. She’s tough, aggressive, and agile, and she’s worked really hard to step up her game. I’m really excited to see her take control of our backfield.”

With play seven vs. seven, no state tournament, and a 10-game slate against just Liberty Division teams, Reynolds looks to the upcoming season much differently. Instead of trying to earn enough points to qualify for tourney play, Reynolds feels the goals for Reading this season will be to constantly try to improve and get better, and give the young newcomers quality playing time.

“I have a different mind-set this year,” said Reynolds. “It’s not going to be about winning every single game to get to a big showdown, but instead it will be about getting better and improving, and giving our freshman and sophomores game experience.

“With no tournament this year, I see this as a year to develop our younger players to help us become a stronger team,” the coach went on. “So I want to face the strong teams this year, since this is the year for our schedule to be challenging.”

Reading will begin the regular season on Saturday when it hosts Winchester at the Turf 2 field at Reading High (2:30 p.m.).

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