The Western Reserve field hockey team finished off the first season in program history without Marie Fiedler as coach in high style.
The Lady Pioneers finished the year with a 9-6 record, saving their biggest win for the last game of the season, beating rival Hudson High School for the first time in six years.
"The Hudson win was a great win because the girls played really well," said first-year coach Kirsten Walther. "We did a great job of executing the game plan."
Not only was Walther replacing a coaching legend, but this was the first time she has been a head coach.
But she was able to rely on her playing days at Holy Cross (Mass.), her assistant coaches and the players as she quickly grew into the job.
"Being fresh out of college, I was still in the player mindset when the season started," Walther said.
"Assistant coach Susan McKenzie has a lot of coaching skills and she really helped me lead the girls and translate what I knew as a player, so I could teach the girls from the sidelines.
"Our work ethic was also impressive. We were able to step it up at midseason and it was rewarding to see the results. The players did a good job playing for each other."
Walther said she knew she was reaching the players following the second of two games against Maumee Valley Country Day School.
"We played them twice in one week and lost the first game," Walther said. "We came back and had a tough week of practice where we asked a lot of the players. When we played Maumee Valley again, we beat them 5-1."
Senior co-captains Julia Schiciano, a Hudson resident, and Anne Wyman were named co-Most Valuable Players.
"As a new coach, I relied heavily on our captains to serve as intermediaries between the team and coaches, as motivators during tough stretches of play and as examples of intensity, competitiveness and a winning attitude day in and day out," Walther said.
"Though Julia and Annie played different positions, had different styles of play and led in different ways, I was very proud of their shared dedication to the program.
Both Annie and Julia had commendable seasons, racking up several goals and assists apiece, and fittingly, each scored a goal in our win over Hudson.
"However, we did not win simply because of their ability to put goals in the net; we won because of their ability to lift up their teammates and lead by example in executing our game plan. Their goals were merely an extension of their strong, unrelenting and smart play in the rest of the game.
"Annie and Julia are both technically strong players but also eager to learn and ready listeners.
"They both made my job so much fun and reminded me of why I love field hockey."
In addition to the school award, Schiciano was a Northeast Ohio All-League second-team selection.
Junior McKenna Polak earned the Most Improved Player award.
"McKenna did not begin the season as a regular starter," Walther said. "However, within the first few games of the season, she showed such improvement that she quickly became one of our key players.
"She was eager to work hard, eager to learn and I couldn't have asked for a more coachable player. Her skills certainly improved throughout the season, but even more importantly, her understanding of the game and willingness to assert herself as a leader grew. McKenna was a great asset to our defensive unit and will continue to lead next year as a senior with lots of quality playing experience."
The Coaches/Spirit award was presented to senior Margaret Graves.
"Maggie was one of the hardest workers on the team and she showed up ready to play every single day with a positive and competitive attitude," Walther said.
"She was one of our strongest players and one of our most resilient -- a true athlete. Though she went largely unrecognized in the stats columns I, as a former defender, valued the great work that she did in the backfield.
"Maggie was our team's secret weapon; though not flashy, her play was very smart and very technically solid.
"She played with heart, hustle and remained a solid, consistent force throughout the year. Maggie is mentally tough, physically tough and wonderfully coachable."
Walther also pointed out the contributions made by sophomore Sarah Forhan (Hudson) and junior Anne Carter (Hudson), who was named to the NEO All-League first team.
"Sarah was our starting center/midfielder, which is a big role to fill after only playing one year at the high school level," Walther said. "She is a very good athlete.
"Annie is one of our strongest players -- one who is very consistent, versatile and coachable. She will be a huge asset to the team next year."
Now that she has her first season as coach behind her, Walther was able to reflect on the experience.
"We had a winning record, which was a concrete manifestation of a successful team," she said. "It also showed we played good field hockey.
"The girls really took a lot of coaching points and used them in the game. I was impressed by what the girls demanded of each other and how they wanted to work hard to improve."
Next year's captains will be Carter, junior Faith DeBolt and Polak.