September 23, 2020

Working Hard to Abide by COVID-19 Protocols, Stuart Field Hockey Embracing Chance to Play

SAVING GRACE: Stuart Country Day School field hockey goalie Audrey Blandford makes a save in a recent preseason workout. Junior star Blandford will be anchoring the Stuart defense again this fall. The Tartans start their 2020 season by hosting the Hun School on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having started coaching the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team in the mid-1980s, Missy Bruvik boasts a vast wealth of knowledge and experience.

But Bruvik has never seen anything like the 2020 preseason where she has been compelled to modify her tried and true coaching approach to incorporate COVID-19 protocols.

“I feel like because we were doing optional workouts in August, we used that time to learn how to best do some coaching to keep the kids engaged,” said Bruvik, who took a five-year hiatus from the program in the early 2000s to follow her daughter Kelly and son Ryan as they competed in college athletics in field hockey and golf, respectively.

“We wanted give them an opportunity to be together while being socially distant.”

Over the preseason, the Stuart players have been making the most of the chance to be together again.

“They absolutely embraced the opportunity; they have been awesome in terms of attendance, wanting to be on the field and to be with each other,” said Bruvik, who guided the Tartans to an 11-4-1 record in 2019 as the squad advanced to the Mercer County Tournament final and the state Prep B semis.

“They are working hard to abide by all of the rules. They want to be out there and we want to be with them. It is a break during the course of the school day. It is something they really look forward to, being outside and still being physically active.”

Bruvik believes her forward line should be potent as the unit features senior Catherine Martin, senior Molly Lagay, senior Janiah Adams, senior Morgan John, senior Amaris Frink, junior Sanya Khullar, sophomore Lily Harlin, sophomore Peighton Dwellington, sophomore Madison Leggett, and freshman Giselle Jean-Marie.

“Molly and Catherine are looking great; they have been to every optional practice and every preseason practice,” said Bruvik, whose team opens the 2020 season by hosting the Hun School on October 3.

“They are really honing their stick skills, they both know how to finish. Lily is looking terrific, her skills and field sense have really improved. She is passing the ball beautifully, she is finishing. She will be up front.”

Along the midfield, the Tartans will be led by junior Kaitlyn Magnani with senior Lia Bull-Krieg seeing time there.

“Kaitlyn is looking like dynamite,” added Bruvik. “She knows the game, she can carry the ball, and she is a great distributor. Kaitlyn should be controlling the center of the field for us like she did last year as a sophomore. You could see Lia there, she will be playing some defense but she also has versatility enough to move up to the midfield.”

On the back line, Stuart boasts plenty of depth with a group that includes junior Keya Patel, junior Lauren Gracias, junior Lauren Richey, sophomore Amelia Elgart, sophomore Mia Zebruaskas, sophomore Abby Snyder, and a trio of promising freshmen in Alexandra Mandzij, Isabel Milley, and Elise Price.

“Keya, Lauren [Gracias], and Mia are all in the backfield,” said Bruvik. “Abby will also be in the defensive end. We have freshmen, Alexandra, Isabel, and Elise, who are working very, very hard and are showing improvement every single day with some great game sense because they play other sports.”

Junior goalie Audrey Blandford has shown plenty of improvement after emerging as a star last fall.

“What has really stood out this season is just the control she is taking of the backfield,” said Bruvik of Blandford.

“Audrey is clearly a talented keeper but now she is really filling that role by being vocal, directing the kids in front of her. “She is playing with continued poise and confidence this season.”

With a limited nine-game schedule that includes three games against Princeton Day School along with two against both Pennington and the Hun School, Bruvik is confident that Stuart will still get a lot out of the fall.

“It is a different kind of season; it is going to be that appreciation of when we are out here and we will take advantage of this experience despite not having tournament play,” said Bruvik.

“We are looking at that big picture about being together, working as hard as we can every day and seeing where can we still go with the season. We are very fortunate that we are going to get to play those teams home and away. Hopefully it will happen and it won’t get shut down. It is going to be a group effort, not just for our school but for all of the schools.”