Restoring a jaded team’s morale is never an easy task. Coaches have used different methods with the hopes of catching their players’ attention, some choosing more creative ones than others. Former Texas A&M head coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, hauled his ragtag group of football players to Junction, Texas, for a grueling, now legendary, football camp. Aron Bright, a former Indiana high school wrestling coach, bit the head off of a live bird.
Lauren Cirino’s approach was more measured. The first-year Hayfield field hockey coach took her newly inherited team to American University to watch an early August scrimmage against James Madison University.
“It was a wonderful game to watch because they played a full game and practiced what overtime would look like. They also practiced strokes,” said 27-year-old Cirino, who also coached Hayfield’s freshmen team in 2008.
“The girls got to see everything and how the two teams did it. It was a very good experience for us and I’m happy we went and got to see the level of play in college.”
The American University trip was just three months ago, but it seems like much longer than that for those close to Hawk field hockey. The team and its fans witnessed a complete transformation this season. The Hawks recently wrapped up a successful 12-win 2011 campaign, which concluded with a late October regional tournament appearance.
This season’s 12-wins were the most posted by a Hayfield field hockey team in at least five years and tie the amount of combined team wins in the past three years. In fact, the Hawks won more games during an eight-game win streak this season than last year’s team did all year.
Despite making it look easy, it was anything but for Cirino, whose first priority after assuming head coaching duties was to find players who wanted to be a part of something new. And after all of the team’s struggles prior to this season, that understandably took some work.
“I knew the talent that some of the girls had. Even though I didn’t coach them, I watched them play. I knew that there was a lot of talent there but it wasn’t coming together on the field,” said Cirino.
“I wanted to figure out how to do that with this group of girls. We set goals at the beginning of the season as a team.”
Similar to Bryant’s football camp though not as brutal, Cirino implemented a strenuous twice a week conditioning program over the summer and two-a-day practices where she and assistants focused on teaching proper fundamentals. The time was also used to build camaraderie and confidence among the new coaches and players.
The results were evidenced throughout the season.
After starting the season 3-2-1, the Hawks dropped their following two matches. Trailing Herndon on September 2, Cirino sensed a feeling of restlessness start to overcome the team. Her halftime speech that game stuck and became etched in her players’ minds the rest of the season. While Herndon hung on to win the game, Hayfield wouldn’t lose again for 38 days as part of an eight-game win streak during which they outscored opponents 17-2 and posted six shutouts.
“They started to find more and more confidence in themselves…and it became addicting. They felt like they had to win and they really cared about winning,” Cirino said.
Hayfield’s turnaround season ended with a regional tournament loss, but the team’s 11 seniors closed their high school careers out on top. An experience they’re not likely to forget anytime soon.
“Some of the girls were asking if I could find a league that all of the seniors could still play in. They were not ready for it to be over. It really warmed my heart. They just love the sport and I’m so happy they had such a successful season,” remarked Cirino when talking about the girls she first coached as freshmen.
Cirino has brought Hayfield from National District punching bag to legitimate contender. And in doing so, has earned the trust of her players and fans and the respect of opposing coaches.