October 16, 2019

Mullen Steps Up with Her Leadership, Production, Helping Stuart Field Hockey Make MCT Quarters

LINING IT UP: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Caroline Mullen goes after the ball in a game earlier this fall. Last Saturday, senior star Mullen tallied two goals as seventh-seeded Stuart defeated 10th-seeded WW/P-North 3-0 in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament. The Tartans, who improved to 8-2-1 with the victory, were slated to play at second-seeded Lawrence High in the MCT quarters on October 15 with the victor advancing to the semis on October 17 at Lawrence High. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having edged WW/P-North 2-0 in a regular season contest in early October, the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team was ready for a battle when the foes met for a rematch last Saturday in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament.

“Going into today, we knew that they were going to come out hard so we wanted to finish early,” said Stuart senior star Caroline Mullen.

“We have been working in the past few weeks on finishing with little pushes in, just getting used to each other.”

While seventh-seeded Stuart dominated possession against the 10th-seeded Northern Knights from the opening whistle, it found itself locked in a scoreless tie until Mullen produced a brilliant finish with 8:28 left in the half.

“I basically did the same goal in the other game I played against them,” said Mullen. “I just saw a lane and I decided to go for it and went for the hit; it worked out.”

Things worked out well for Stuart as it got goals from Molly Lagay and a second tally from Mullen late in the second half to earn a 3-0 victory, setting up an MCT quarterfinal matchup at second-seeded Lawrence slated for October 15 with the victor advancing to the semifinals on October 17 at Lawrence High.

“We wanted to get a goal in the first five minutes but we struggled a little bit; we had so many corners,” said Mullen. “Having Molly drive that baseline for her goal was really good.”

Mullen’s second goal came off a corner, set up by a feed from sophomore star Kaitlyn Magnani.

“We had been working on that corner a lot, doing a push off it,” said Mullen. “I thought it was time for the hit so I went for a solid hit to the far post.”

Mullen enjoys working with Magnani as the two have developed a potent partnership in the midfield.

“We always know where each other are, we think alike and we play alike,” said Mullen. “I always know I can have her for a pass.”

Bringing a wealth of experience to the table for the Tartans, Mullen is looking to set a positive tone in her final campaign with the program.

“Being one of the few seniors on the team, I have been looking to step up,” said Mullen, who has committed to attend Tufts University and play for its Division III field hockey program.

“I am more experienced, every year I get better at learning how to work with different people. I am a little more aggressive this year.”

Coming into the rematch against WW/P-North, Stuart head coach Missy Bruvik wanted her squad to fine-tune things from the earlier match-up between the foes.

“We worked on things that we thought that we didn’t execute well last time,” said Bruvik.

“We had multiple corners today so I am proud of the fact that we continue to generate great opportunities inside our circle. I am really pleased with our midfield defense.”

Bruvik was pleased with how the Tartans stayed aggressive to the final whistle.

“I thought that was a very good team and a very good game,” said Bruvik, whose team improved to 8-2-1 with the victory.

“We just needed to continue to be relentless in there. We needed to release sooner, so if we weren’t going to get our initial shots, let’s go for the rebound.”

In Bruvik’s view, Mullen has sparked that relentless approach through her savvy and leadership.

“Caroline is the catalyst for every practice and every game, directing kids,” said Bruvik.

“We have a lot of new kids on this team and they feel like she is leading me 60 minutes at a time, I will learn the game. They have a tutor on the field all the time.”

With Stuart also starting play in the state Prep B tournament, where it is seeded third and will host sixth-seeded Newark Academy in a first round contest on October 16, Bruvik believes that the performance against WW/P-North is a harbinger of good things to come.

“You go through ups and downs with your season, saying we won this game but we didn’t play to our level,” said Bruvik. “Today I think we played really well. If we can continue to do that, we could peak. You have to peak now.”

Mullen, for her part, is confident that Stuart can peak when it counts the most.

“We are looking forward to the tournaments, it has been a good season,” said Mullen. “We lost a lot of people from last year. We have a lot of freshmen and we do have a smaller team this year. Considering how many new girls we have and how well we have all played together, I am really happy.”