The building blocks for a winner began to be formed last year for the McLean High girls’ field hockey program, which put together its best season in years when the Highlanders finished 16-5-2 and reached the quarterfinals of the Northern Region playoffs.
McLean, under second year head coach Summer Vanni - formerly known as Summer Hardman before marrying this offseason - is likely to have another winning season this fall. Going into this week, the Highlanders were an impressive 6-3.
“I’m expecting a successful season based on our returning players and the kids who have been brought up [from JV],” said Vanni.
The Highlanders opened the regular season with an impressive 2-0 win at perennial powerhouse Lake Braddock on Oct. 24. It marked the first time in 20 years that Bruins’ head coach Diane Miller, one of the region’s all-time winningest coaches, had ever lost a season opening contest. McLean, in the confidence-building triumph, received goals from Caitlin Baker and Jordan Walker.
In the net, Highlander goalie Sarah Park made 20 saves. Both teams, throughout the game, made impressive offensive rushes on the net.
While Lake Braddock is a young squad as a result of numerous graduation losses, the Bruins are a still renowned program and a good test for anyone.
“That was kind of our starting point and the team was real excited,” said Vanni, of the win over the Bruins.
More recently, McLean traveled to Virginia Beach to compete at the Sun Devil Tournament Aug. 28-29. There, the Highlanders went 2-2, with the wins coming over St. Catherine’s and Denbigh (Newport News), and the losses coming to Maury (Norfolk) and Kellam (Virginia Beach).
Two days upon returning home, McLean lost to Liberty District opponent and defending district champion W.T. Woodson, 3-2, in a contest played at McLean on Aug. 31.
The two teams had met in last year’s district tournament finals at Madison High School with the Cavaliers winning, 3-0. McLean, following that postseason loss to Woodson last fall, went on to defeat Mount Vernon, 5-0, in a first round region playoff game before seeing its season end with a 4-2 loss to South County in a quarterfinals affair.
MCLEAN’S WINS this season (regular season and pre-season combined) have come over Washington-Lee, 3-0, Lake Braddock, Oakton, 5-0, St. Catherine’s, Denbigh and Wakefield, 9-0. The losses have come to Maury, Kellam and Woodson.
The lopsided road win over region opponent Wakefield, an Arlington team and a member of the National District, came on Sept. 3.
Vanni said her team is made up of players who are athletic and growing in their knowledge of the game. Over 25 members of the McLean program participated in Lake Braddock’s team camp at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond) during the spring/summer.
“We have a lot of athletes – girls who play soccer, lacrosse and basketball,” said Vanni, who has 12 returning varsity players from last year’s team. “They all went to the team camp and are playing with more maturity.”
The coach said her first season at the helm of the McLean program in 2008 was about getting to know her team and its new players. It turned out to be a wonderful season for the Highlanders.
“You never know what you’re going to get and I was pleasantly surprised,” said Vanni, of last year’s team. “The girls got acclimated to me and my style of coaching.
With last year’s success has come a determination to be an even better team this season.
“This year, they expect to win,” said Vanni, of her team. “I don’t have to convince them [they are a good team]. They have so much more experience now. We talk about winning the region and going to the state championship.”
The coach said she is certain of one thing – the Highlanders will always give their best effort, win or lose.
“We will never lose a game because we get outhustled,” she said.
McLean’s team captains this season are seniors Caitlin Baker (center midfielder), Maddy Parkhurst (midfield) and Casey Alexander (forward).
Earlier this week, the Highlanders were scheduled to play Herndon High (on Sept. 8, the first day of schools in Fairfax County). This Thursday (Sept. 10), the Highlanders will host district opponent South Lakes.
Next Tuesday (Sept. 15), McLean will play one of the area’s best teams, St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School of Alexandria. The road contest will start at 4:15 in the afternoon.
One of the most exciting aspects of this season for McLean is that the Highlanders are playing their home games on their new, beautiful Bermuda turf field.
“Our boosters have done a great job of upgrading our facility,” said Vanni. “Our girls are in heaven.”