TEWKSBURY — Throughout her (soon to be) Hall of Fame career, Pat Ryser made a habit of making wholesale changes with her players' positions on the field before and during seasons nearly every year and the former Tewksbury Memorial High School Field Hockey coach seemed to hit a home run ever time she did that.
Now in her second year as head coach, Jordan Russell, Ryser's longtime assistant, is taking a page out of that book. After losing seven seniors, including six starters with five of those coming on the defensive end, she had to reorganize, re-set and come up with some new strategies and plans for this upcoming season.
"We have had to do a lot of shuffling so far this year. I had to take one of my senior captains, Tori (Schille) who has been playing a forward position throughout her entire career and now I have bumped her back to midfield/defense," said Russell. "She has been great about it, but all of the girls have been great.
“We had to have a conversation about it where I had to explain that they were not going to play the positions they wanted or are accustomed of playing because we have needs in other positions and I’m going to need to fill those spots. It’s been really cool just to see that shift in dynamic."
Last year, Tewksbury was going through and up-and-down season before really putting it together late in the regular season with several wins which qualified the team for the state tournament. There the Redmen were defeated in a preliminary round game against Bishop Fenwick, to end the season with a 9-10-0 overall record.
With seven seniors gone from that team, that left a handful of roster and starting spots open, but it seems those questions have been answered at this point.
"I felt the same way last year as I do now and I don’t know why, but I’m surprisingly thrilled with what I see at this point," said Russell. "We had a few scrimmages over the past week and this past weekend and the girls did great.
“I have a really fast team this year which is the first time I can say that. We are never a fast team but we always had the defense to back it up, but this year I think overall we are very, very fast so that will help our inexperience on defense."
That quickness starts upfront as the Redmen return three-sport athlete Ryan Quinn, who netted 16 goals and added 7 assists as part of her sensational junior year. She was named to the MVC All-Conference and Lowell Sun All-Star teams.
She will be the center forward and her wings will be Morgan Woodman and Alexis Raymond.
"We need Ryan to score, score and score," said Russell with a laugh. "Both Morgan and Alexis have excellent stickhandling skills and awareness, but are a little timid once they get near the net. They love to dump the ball to someone else. Once I can break them of doing that, I think the three of them are going to be very, very strong as a forward trio."
Russell added that the team is changing its format this year, putting a new defensive line in with four players in the back, but playing in pairs, with one group in front of the other. Schille has been dropped back to play one of those two top spots, while Michelle Hinkle has been dropped back to play one of those two back spots. When Schille gets tired from all of the running or when Tewksbury has a lead late in games, she will flip-flop with Hinkle.
The other defenders will include returner McKenzie Dawson, as well as newcomers Beri Lantum, Emma Fleming and Brooke Woodman.
"Brooke, Beri and Emma are three juniors, who if you asked me over the summer, I would have said that they would have been on the JV team this year," admitted Russell. "But all three of them came out and have been just fantastic. They have just been heads and tails above what everyone was expecting. It was really great to see. And all three of them are mixing in very well with the rest of the girls I have on defense."
Lantum, the coach says, has really been the biggest surprise.
"We noticed her last year on JV," said Russell. "She was really improving throughout the season. She’s a senior now and she has come a long way. As a freshman, she had knee issues and we weren’t sure how real it was. Not to sound mean, but she wasn’t really athletic (at the time). But she came back as a sophomore, she ran so much better and we realized that it really was her knees that were bothering her.
“She showed up this year and now that we have the athleticism, we also have the understanding of the game and a little more experience, so she is like a new person. I’m excited to bring her up from the JV team. She has been popping in there on the defensive line."
Those defenders will play in front of sophomore goalie Brianna Gagnon, who was magnificent last year as a freshman.
"She is just fantastic. She wants to be in the net, it’s where she belongs and it’s great," said Russell.
The midfield group will have Julia Garland and Olivia Burns playing on the sides of Schille, while, Mia Gaglione will certainly be in the mix.
Rounding out the depth of the roster includes juniors Grace Govini and Meagan Marshall and sophomores Courtney Capachietti, Aliana Kennen and Ava Piccolo.
Tewksbury opened the season on Wednesday against Lawrence with results not known as of press time, and then will return for a non-league game on Thursday at Tyngsboro before the team's home opener on Monday against Dracut at 3:45 pm.