MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE — The Columbia High School field hockey program has been on the rise since Stephanie Rivera took over as head coach.
Columbia enjoyed a great start to this season. In the first game of the year, Columbia posted an amazing comeback win. They rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Livingston, 3-2, Sept. 9, in Livingston.
Columbia followed that win with a 2-0 victory over Mount St. Dominic on Sept. 11 at Underhill Field.
Entering her third season at the helm, Rivera has created an optimistic culture. In the spring, she started a feeder program for players in grades K-8. The program attracted about 100 participants. There also is a feeder program this fall.
The feeder programs will undoubtedly do wonders for Columbia.
This season, Columbia features an impressive mix of talent and experience. But more important, Rivera is delighted to see the team’s strong chemistry on and off the field.
“What I really love about this team is the team dynamic,” said Rivera before a practice session at Underhill Field on Sept. 7. “They support each other, on and off the field. That is definitely going to set us apart this season. They have a lot of determination. I know we are going to be a team that is going to be underestimated, so that is just going to fuel us even more to come out super hard and prove anyone who ever doubted us wrong.”
The players this season expressed the joy of playing for Rivera and the team for the past few years.
Georgie Gassaro, a junior, recalled joining the team as a freshman with no experience, feeling a little intimidated. But soon, she became more comfortable and has enjoyed playing for the team ever since.
“I just felt so open and, automatically, like (I had) a new group of friends,” she said.
Gassaro has high hopes for the season.
“It’s going to be a big year,” she said. “As a team, we haven’t started yet, but we already feel a connection, moving and playing as a unit, and just play to win.”
Maeve Tuohy, a senior, has been with the program for four years.
“I love it,” Tuohy said. “I’ve always said it’s my favorite thing. It’s been the best decision I’ve made, starting field hockey my freshman year. To be a senior and to be a captain on the team, I love it.”
Tuohy said Rivera has been an inspiration.
“Coach Rivera is the most dedicated coach I have ever seen,” Tuohy said. “Nobody can ever accuse her of not putting all the time and energy into it, and it totally shows.”
Kat Turi, a senior, said the team’s camaraderie is special.
“It’s really amazing,” Turi said. “It’s always a sisterhood. It’s so supportive. This year we are so supportive of each other, and it’s so fun.”
The team’s dedication and commitment will also go a long way toward having a great season, Turi said.
“I think we have been very committed so far, and it shows throughout our scrimmages,” she said.
The rest of the returning players are seniors Ellie Holdom, goalie, and Courtney Plaza; and junior Sarah Cerny.
The rest of the team includes seniors Lillie Austin, Emma Booker-Dodd, Charlotte Busch-Vogel, Sawyer Dahlen, Mariana Fulweiler, Katie McElynn, Nina Panzer, Tess Price, Claire Samori and Grace Trenouth; juniors Olive Kern-Kensler, goalie Lily Sharma and Sophia Vaccariello; sophomore Liv Graziano; and freshman Ann Elise Van Varick.
Marissa Buzar is the assistant coach.
Photos Courtesy of Stephanie Rivera