HOLDING THE FORT: Princeton Day School field hockey goalie Katie Alden makes a stop in recent action. Senior Alden and classmates Dana Poltorak, and Niki van Manen have provided positive leadership this fall as PDS has battled through a tough season. The Panthers, now 2-10, will be competing in the Mercer County Tournament this week where they are seeded 13th and will be playing at No. 4 Lawrenceville in a first round contest. PDS is also slated to play at the Hill School (Pa.) on October 15 and host Hopewell Valley on October 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Borrowing a page from the U.S. Marines playbook, “the few, the proud” motto applied as the Princeton Day School field hockey team celebrated its Senior Day last week.
Through attrition and injury, the program’s Class of 2015 was whittled down to three with Katie Alden [this reporter’s daughter], Dana Poltorak, and Niki van Manen as the only seniors remaining on the team.
Of those three, only two are still in action with van Manen having been sidelined indefinitely as she recovers from mono.
For Alden, the ceremony, which occurred before the team’s game against cross-town rival Princeton High on October 7, triggered mixed emotions.
“It was obviously a bittersweet moment, it was really sad that we couldn’t play with Niki since she is out,” said Alden.
“She is one of our best players and we really depend on her in the backfield. We want her to be healthy; we don’t want anything bad to happen to her so we know it was right of her to not play as much as she wanted to.”
On the other hand, Alden appreciated the support she felt from the team’s younger players.
“Every year since my freshman year, on senior day I always want to play harder for my seniors,” said Alden.
“I looked up to them. This year, they were playing for me and that flipped the table as to what it usually is for me. They got us gifts, it was sweet. They were like play great Katie, this is for you, and that really pumped us up before the game.”
While the game didn’t turn out great for PDS as PHS posted a 6-1 win, Alden played hard to the final whistle, piling up 17 saves.
“I just want to stay in it, no matter what the score is,” said Alden. “It is easy to get your head out of the game but you really have to stay focused and keep the score as low as you can. You know that it has to go through everyone to get to you and that they are leaning on you to stay in this game.”
With a roster that includes eight freshmen and six sophomores, Alden knows that she has to call the shots along the backline.
“I try to communicate as often as I can because as the goalie, I can see everything,” said Alden.
“This is my seventh year playing field hockey so I can anticipate plays and put people in better positions than I could as a freshman. I am not scared to direct players. I know that they will understand if I scream at them, they will mark up, and get their sticks down. I know that with my direct communication, it’s going to be the best field hockey we play. We really need to have that structurally sound and technical game, that basic game.”
Although PDS has struggled to a 2-10 record, Alden and her teammates aren’t hanging their heads.
“We try to make everything fun; even though we are losing, I still walk off the field happy,” said Alden
“We are a lot more cohesive than we have been in the past couple of years, especially because there is no JV team. Everyone is on the same team which I think made a big difference. We have a locker room to ourselves, which is fun. We give them little inspirational notes before every game. I think we really try and support them because we want the program to stay together and keep building. The only way for that to happen is if we have a fun year. We may not have the best record but is has always been fun and I think that’s key.”
PDS head coach Tracey Arndt credits her trio of senior tri-captains with holding things together through a challenging fall.
“They have been great,” said Arndt. “They have been on the varsity for four years and with me for three years. They had good leaders in the classes before them and they have emulated them. They understand how I want things done.”
Arndt notes that the team’s younger players have been positively influenced by the seniors.
“We have a brand new team and the freshmen didn’t know stuff, like this is what happens on game day and this is what we need to do when we play on the road,” said Arndt.
“The younger girls have been looking to them. I am not at school during the day and they make the transition smooth.”
The Panthers have looked to Alden to hold the fort in the goal. “What I enjoy seeing is that when things are under pressure and getting tougher, Katie is stepping up,” said Arndt.
“She has played her best in some of the harder games. She had older players in front of her on defense in the past and now there are a lot of young players in front of her. She has taken on the role of communicating. It is tough when you are also making the saves. She has been adaptable and flexible.”
Poltorak has provided a maternal approach along with some aggressive play. “Every team has a mom; Dana is always caring for everyone, making sure that everyone is OK,” said Arndt.
“In terms of hockey, she has played with fluidity. Even as she is in the last weeks of her senior season, her confidence is increasing. She is coming into her own. She has worked hard to get her hit perfected. That comes to light when we play on grass fields where it is harder. She is the one we depend on to get the ball up the field.”
While van Manen hasn’t been on the field as much as she would have wanted, she has gained from the experience. “She is a player, she is hoping to go on and play at the next level and I am sure she will,” said Arndt.
“We have put her in a lot of positions, we moved her to defense from midfield and she did a great job even though it is riskier there if you lose the ball. Being out, she is seeing it from a different perspective this year and gaining a greater understanding of how the game is played. It will help her when she goes to college.”
With the Mercer County Tournament starting this week, Arndt is hoping to have more games with the seniors.
“The three of them have been class acts,” said Arndt, whose team is seeded 13th in the MCT and will play at fourth-seeded Lawrenceville in the first round.
“It has been great to have had them the last three years. I wish I had them for a couple of more years. We are trying to extend the season so we have as much time with them as possible.”
Alden has enjoyed spending time this fall with her teammates. “I think this year has made me more patient,” said Alden.
“You play as a team to be together. It is about who you are with and not how you are doing as a team. We don’t see who we are playing next, it is kind of a nameless, faceless team when you walk into the game. We focus on playing our best hockey.”
PDS is bringing that focus on the present into the postseason. “I think the goal is to go as far as we can and be the little team that could,” added Alden.
“Even though we have a lot of injuries and a young team, I think that if we play our best hockey, we could shock teams. They are going to be very confident going into games with us. I think we can take advantage of that and really capitalize on those moments.”