2021 field hockey preview: Rivals Cox, First Colonial set to battle for the Beach title

Sian Wilkerson, The Virginian-Pilot
·8 min read

Top 15

1. Cox

Coming off of a 20-1 season and second consecutive state title, the Falcons are primed to once again be the top team in Hampton Roads. Though they lost All-Tidewater Player of the Year Zoe Campisi to graduation, Cox will be returning several key playmakers to their roster, including Stevie Drum, a University of Richmond commit who finished with 33 goals and 11 assists last season, and junior Zella Bailey, who scored three of the Falcons’ four goals in their Class 5 state championship win. The team is playing “with a ‘make the most of every moment’ attitude,” coach Taylor Rountree said.

2. Gloucester

After ending last season with a state semifinal loss and finishing 19-2, the Dukes are ready to get back to business. For years, Gloucester has been a juggernaut, at one point going on a tear of 40 consecutive wins before a one-goal loss to Cox in last season’s region title game, and amassing a 178-3 goal differential in 2019. Led by seniors Cara O’Beirne and Brooke Bilhimer, the Dukes will be “young at a lot of spots but competitive,” said head coach Mike Miller.

3. First Colonial

Led by several key upperclassmen, including Allie Burnett, junior Emily Tammaro and seniors Kelly Taylor and Anna Delong, the Patriots are another young team with a “fantastic” attitude, according to head coach Beanie Schleicher. Last season, the Patriots went 14-3 but missed the state tournament after falling to Cox in the Class 5 Region A semifinals. Schleicher, who has put together a 206-12 record in her 10 years with the Patriots, says “expectations are high” for her group this season.

4. Norfolk Academy

Norfolk Academy will have a strong veteran contingent on the field this year as it welcomes back a “big squad with lots of potential.” Among the key contributors returning to the Bulldogs are seniors Kate Ruffin and Haley Holland, who both helped lead their team to a 16-6-1 record and a VISAA Division I state semifinal berth in 2019. Longtime head coach Mary Werkheiser said one of the keys to a successful season will be staying healthy.

5. Cape Henry

The Dolphins, who took home their third consecutive VISAA Division II state title in 2019, have a new head coach in Kim Decker Dooren. Formerly an assistant on the coaching staff for six years, Dooren has a “squad that is unified and unselfish.” Helping to lead the charge for Cape Henry are All-Tidewater first-team defender Olivia Zettervall and forward/midfielder Livy Wallace, who netted 11 goals and added 15 assists last season.

6. Poquoson

In 2019, the Islanders played in their second straight state title game, falling in overtime to defending champion James Monroe in the Class 3 final. Poquoson finished 19-2 and should be a contender again.

7. Great Bridge

The Wildcats are “very motivated to get to states again and working hard to be successful” after ending last season with an overtime loss in the Class 4 state final, said coach Katie Duke. Led by seniors Riley Buschert, who was named to the 2019 All-Tidewater first team, and Payton Wilson, the Wildcats are ready to get back to the big stage.

8. Kellam

In her first year as head coach, Nicole Morgan and the Knights went all the way to the Class 6 state championship game, finishing 17-5 with the program’s first state tournament appearance. The team is “hungry to compete for the state title for a second year,” said Morgan. Kellam lost a huge part of its offense with the graduation of Tori Carawan, but the returners are “ready to step up to the task.”

9. Western Branch

In 2019, the Bruins had one of their program’s best seasons, going all the way to the Class 6 state semifinals. This year, they will look to build on that success.

10. Tabb

The Tigers had another successful year in 2019, making it to the Class 3 state semifinals, where they fell to James Monroe, which went on to win a third consecutive crown.

11. Kecoughtan

After finishing 14-5 in 2019, the Warriors hope to continue the solid defensive effort that led their success last season. Among the players who will make an impact is Maddison Steele, a senior midfielder who finished the previous season with 15 goals.

12. Princess Anne

According to coach Kristen Wheeler, her young team’s success will depend upon “the leadership of our more experienced players.” Among those important veterans is senior midfielder Madi San Diego, who had six goals and four assists for the 10-7 Cavaliers last season.

13. Catholic

There’s plenty of individual talent on the roster for the Crusaders, but the key will be if “they can learn to work together,” said coach Beth Keenehan. Senior midfielder Kinley Koch will be a major figure in Catholic’s success.

14. York

Led by junior forward Julia Skinner and senior midfielder Shannon Gaffney, several key returners will make an impact for the Falcons, who finished last season 12-7.

15. Tallwood

“It will be a team effort” for the Lions this season, according to longtime head coach Theresa Platte, who has several former junior-varsity players stepping up into a varsity role this year. Led by several strong returners, including seniors Megan Rolince and Juliet Griffin, Tallwood hopes to build on last year’s 12-6 finish.

5 things you should know

State tournament bottleneck

With First Colonial and Cox both dropping down a class last season, Class 5 Region A proved to be a gauntlet in 2019 as the Patriots, Falcons and Gloucester Dukes all battled for supremacy. Last season, First Colonial missed the state tournament for the first time in several years. This year, it will be even tougher, as the VHSL will allow just one school from each region to advance to the next stage.

Coaches continuing to make their mark

Two coaches are hitting a big milestone with their teams this season as First Colonial’s Beanie Schleicher and Menchville’s Nicole Kuykendall Sullivan both enter their 10th season with their schools. There are several coaches in the Hampton Roads area who have spent more than a decade on the same sideline, with Great Bridge’s Katie Duke and Nansemond River’s Ali Dize both entering their 11th season, Gloucester’s Mike Miller in his 14th year, Catholic’s Beth Keenehan in her 15th year, and Tallwood’s Theresa Platte and Norfolk Academy’s Mary Werkheiser having more than 20 years apiece.

Pared-back play

With COVID-19 still on the forefront of everyday thought, teams are preparing to play a much more condensed season than normal. Many teams are looking forward to a season in which they’ll face just teams from their own districts, while some are even more limited. According to Nansemond River coach Ali Dize, the Warriors are competing against Suffolk-area foes Lakeland and King’s Fork only. And many other schools are facing similar limitations.

State success

In 2019, 11 Hampton Roads teams made it to the state tournament, seven of which advanced to the semifinals and four to the finals. One of those teams — perennial contender Cox — won it all for the program’s 21st state crown. It was a dominant showing for a region that has always been at the forefront of field hockey in Virginia. Out of more than 70 state field hockey champions listed in the VHSL Record Book, more than half have hailed from Hampton Roads.

Hockey hub

Virginia Beach will be on the national field hockey stage as the Big Ten Conference descends for a slate of matchups. Nine college teams — Rutgers, Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland, Penn State, Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern and Ohio State — will play neutral-site games over the next two weekends. Former Hampton Roads players on those teams’ rosters include Cox’s Sam Zywna (Maryland), Gloucester’s Madison Hutson (Penn State), Poquoson’s Emily Deuell (Iowa), Bayside’s Aaliyah Hernandez (Ohio State) and Cape Henry’s Ali Gordon (Ohio State).

5 players to watch

Stevie Drum, Cox, senior

Drum had 33 goals and 11 assists for the Falcons in 2019 as they captured the Class 5 crown, their second consecutive state title. Drum, who is committed to the University of Richmond, will be a major contributor for the Falcons as they chase the program’s 22nd state championship.

Olivia Zettervall, Cape Henry, senior

Defensively, the Dolphins will be led by stalwart Zettervall, who tallied eight goals and six assists last season as her team went 17-4-1 and earned a third-consecutive VISAA Division II state championship.

Allie Burnett, First Colonial, junior

Burnett, who led the Patriots in scoring as a sophomore, is a “very fast and aggressive” player, according to head coach Beanie Schleicher. The ODU commit will help lead a young and competitive team.

Riley Buschert, Great Bridge, senior

The defender/midfielder had 13 goals and four assists last season as she helped lead the Wildcats to a Class 4 state championship-game appearance and an 18-4 record.

Zella Bailey, Cox, junior

As a sophomore, Bailey had 19 goals and 17 assists, and she’ll be a key part of filling the void left by the graduation of 2019 All-Tidewater Player of the Year Zoe Campisi. Bailey, who is committed to Ohio State, is described by head coach Taylor Rountree as a “selfless player” who is “as fast with the ball as she is without.”