Mary Travers’ thoughts were centered on one present as she celebrated her 18th birthday last Thursday.
With her Princeton Day School field hockey team mired in a three-game losing streak, senior star Travers had a simple wish as the Panthers played at Hun. “Coming into this game, I was super excited because it is my birthday,” said Travers. “I told everyone on the team all I want is for us to win.”
Moving to forward from her normal midfield spot, Travers helped make her wish come true, scoring the go-ahead goal as PDS rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to pull out a 3-1 victory over the Raiders.
Although PDS had been struggling recently, Travers had a sense that the Panthers were primed for a breakthrough.
“This week we had two really good practices,” said Travers, a team co-captain along with classmates Sarah Brennan, Emily Goldman, and Emma Quigley.
“We even came out a little to do some extra conditioning because throughout the season we know what we want but we haven’t been necessarily working for what we want and executing. So working for what we want instead of just wanting it has been a big change.”
That desire paid dividends against Hun as the Panthers were not fazed by trailing 1-0 at halftime.
“I honestly wasn’t thinking about that at all,” said Travers. “We knew that we had been playing with them the whole first half and we knew that we could come back. In some of our earlier games this season, when we got a goal scored against us, we kind of had the mindset that was it. So we were really focused, we said 1-0, that’s OK, the game is only halfway done.
The Panthers were sparked by a Bian Maloney goal early in the second half which knotted the game at 1-1.
“I think our warmup was a little slow, it wasn’t our best so we came into the first half a little slowly,” said Travers. “I think Bian’s goal really catalyzed some energy that we needed.”
Travers showed energy minutes later as she scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
“It was awesome; I have never played forward before so it was a change for me,” said Travers, reflecting on the goal.
“We have been working a lot on just keeping our sticks down in the circle. Coach [Tracey] Arndt has really tried to hammer that into our heads and that was what was going through my head. There are girls around but if I have my stick down, it might pop out and I will have an opportunity there.”
With PDS losing top scoring threat Quigley earlier this season due to a thumb injury, Travers was more than willing to assume a more offensive role for the Panthers.
“When Emma first got out, we struggled with that because she is a huge scorer for us and an amazing asset,” said Travers.
“We have tried a couple of different things to adjust and this is the latest iteration of that, putting me forward and keeping Sarah [Brennan] back spread us out and helped us work a little more upfield.”
PDS head coach Tracey Arndt is proud of the way her team has adjusted collectively.
“It was a little tough for us but we kept persevering and we said we are going to work through the fundamentals and make sure that we are sound that way,” said Arndt.
“We took the mentality that it doesn’t matter what the score is. We have got the speed, we have got the skill. It is a just a matter of putting it together. We have had some injuries. I think today was just a culmination of finally being frustrated enough to do what it takes to get over the hump. We still have a long road ahead of us.”
Arndt marvels at all the things that Travers does for the team. “Mary is fantastic; she is certainly an all-around person,” said Arndt of Travers, who scored a goal in a 3-0 win over Blair last Saturday and then tallied a hat trick on Monday as PDS blanked Pennington 5-0 to improve to 5-4.
“I love her spirit. I love her heart. I love her work ethic. She is the definition of a competitor but also is a very kind person. She is a finisher for us as well. So having her in the back, we were hiding some of her skill so we kind of just looked at each other and I said do you want to do it and she said “yup.” It is a new role for her. She was asking appropriate questions and at the end of the day you just have a feel for that cage. You start to salivate for it, that is the only word I can think of.”
Senior star Brennan, who has scored a goal in three straight contests for the Panthers, has also shown a good feel for the game.
“Sarah has been doing great too; she and Mary usually work together in the center,” said Arndt.
“It was Sarah who had to do a lot of that work today getting back and transferring fields and getting it up to the forwards where it is usually Sarah and Mary working together. They just kind of worked together on a different line from the midfield to the forward. She has a lot of grit and competitiveness to her as well. She has always had skills but they have really been refined in the last year. She made it a goal to be able to play Division I college field hockey. She said I have to do what it takes and she has really been working hard.”
PDS has been getting some good work from its defense, having posted back-to-back shutouts and giving up only one goal in its three-game winning streak.
“Nikki van Manen has been moved from an outside mid position to a sweeper, back position,” said Arndt.
“She has really stepped up her game which is great. Katie Alden [this reporter’s daughter] really stepped up in goal. The one thing we were focusing on with her was don’t worry about all those people around you, focus on the ball and making that first save and I think she did a great job that way. We have got some young players back there. At the end of the day, it was beating them to the 50/50 balls. I tell them all the time, that is going to win or lose games. The more times you have the ball, the more chances you have to score.”
In Arndt’s view, PDS has the chance to win a lot of games this fall if it can keep on the ball.
“I think we did some things well tactically that we haven’t done in the past,” said Arndt, whose team hosts Hill on October 2, Lawrenceville on October 5, South Hunterdon on October 7, and Princeton High on October 9, with the latter game being the program’s annual Play 4 the Cure fundraiser.
“Mentally we were down a goal and I said we have to win that half, that at least gives us a chance to get a tie if we won the second half 1-0. We just kept fighting and fighting. Nobody likes to lose, that is the overall goal. We have so much more hockey to play and still a lot of things to do but certainly this was a nice win.”
Travers, for her part, believes that the win over Hun can be a harbinger of things to come.
“I think we needed a win to boost us,” said Travers. “As Coach Arndt said after the game, this is the up part of the roller-coaster and we are going to keep going up.”