In the fall, it’s field hockey. In the spring, it’s softball. But regardless of the sport, Jamie Blumenthal always has some familiar faces around her.
Blumenthal, Chichester’s head coach in both sports, always seems to have a few of her players who play for her in both seasons. By the sound of it, it’s that type of year-round chemistry that has helped the Eagles blossom in both sports recently, especially in field hockey, where they’ve claimed the Del Val League championship for the past two seasons.
“We have a lot of softball girls on this team,” Blumenthal said with a laugh. “It’s good to always have them around.”
Especially a player like Michelle Hagarty, a center mid who enters her senior year as arguably the school’s best all-around athlete. She’s an All-Delco shortstop on the diamond, and she’s expected to be the rock of a Chi team that has aspirations of another championship.
“She’s obviously a gamer,” Blumenthal said. “She gives 100 percent, she has great speed, great anticipation and really good stick work. She’s the catalyst to our team.”
Although she’s the engine that makes the Eagles go, Hagarty is far from being alone. She and Meghan Wimmer, a sophomore right mid, make up a tremendous duo that always seem to have the ball on their sticks. Blumenthal liked what she saw out of Wimmer a year ago, and she expects the Eagles’ softball ace pitcher to play a key role this year, too.
“She’s really good at advancing the ball up the field,” Blumenthal said. “She’s in on the defensive corners, on our offensive corners, and her and Michelle really make our team go.”
Hagarty and Wimmer will have their work cut out for them, at least early on, to allow first-year goalie Sarah Murray, a junior, to get used to things in the net. Murray used to be a soccer goalie who told Blumenthal during softball season that she’d like to give field hockey a whirl. As much as the request took Blumenthal a bit off-guard, the transition from soccer has apparently been a pretty smooth one for Murray.
“She’s a natural athlete,” Blumenthal said. “She’s been doing very well, and we think she’ll do well this year.”
If Blumenthal’s hunch about who her breakout player might be this year, Murray will have even more support in front of her as sophomore Tiffany Malin looks to build off a strong freshman season as the team’s center back. Blumenthal credited Malin’s aggression, anticipation, and stick work as reasons why she’s so high on Malin, and with Hagarty and Wimmer, there’s little doubt that the Chi mid and defense lines will be stingy.
“We hope she anchors the defense and comes through for us,” Blumenthal said of Malin.
And while it seems like the defense could be the team’s strongest area, the Eagles will score some goals, too. Hagarty and Wimmer will undoubtedly have a major role in that, too, but Blumenthal also expects big things from junior Tina Rybak. Rybak, the Eagles’ right wing, is someone Blumenthal hopes can be big for Chi as it aims for that third straight title.
“We’re looking for her to do some scoring,” Blumenthal said. “She can move the ball up field and she’s going to score some goals.”
And in that search for another championship, the Eagles know that the target on their back has been added to by the other teams in the league. Still, Blumenthal doesn’t think that her players really see it as pressure to win again.
“I don’t know that’s it’s really pressure,” Blumenthal said. “It’s something they look forward to, and they use it as motivation to keep that title.”
Academy Park, Interboro and Penn Wood will make sure to fuel that motivation, too.
– MATT CHANDIK