As a glowing sun disappeared behind the trees at Simpkins Field in Yarmouth, members of the St. John Paul II stormed the field to celebrate win No. 1.
A goal by freshman Sophie Stanley, assisted by Ella Sassone and Ella Bartolomei, with 35 seconds left in the second quarter stood up behind some excellent defense and the goaltending of Lili Crofford and Lylah Carli for a 2-1 victory over local rival Sturgis West on Monday.
It has been a history-making year for the field hockey program this fall, culminating in the first victory in the school’s very first year of existence under coach Ted Guazzaloca.
“I am thrilled this was such a team effort, and the defense played was just phenomenal,” said Guazzaloca after the game. “They just went out there, we got good coverage and marked up every single girl in green. When the game was on the line and we got that first lead, we were very determined to keep it.”
St. John Paul fell behind 1-0 early before fighting back to get the equalizer off the stick of Bartolomei.
“I really wanted this win because we’ve been working so hard all season, and I felt we could score on that drive,” she said.
Bartolomei and Sassone teamed up to feed Stanley with the eventual game winner, but the team was then forced to play solid defense through the second half to preserve the win.
“All of the girls have been giving 110 percent in every practice, working toward this,” said junior co-captain Emily Gorsuch. “I think we really deserved (the win) because we’ve come so far. It was amazing, and we were so excited.”
Fellow junior co-captain Kellyn Thayer added, “We’ve been building up for this all season. I’ve seen this team grow so much since we first began,” she said. “It’s just amazing how much work everyone has put in and how strong we’ve become.”
Initially, St. John Paul was supposed to trot out a JV team only this season due to the inexperience of the first-year program. However, when Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard failed to field squads in the Cape and Islands League, the Lions were promoted to varsity.
“They asked us if we’d be willing to jump to varsity to this year instead. We figured, ‘why not,’” said Guazzaloca. “The experience would be beneficial.”
The going was a bit difficult at the outset, dropping a one-sided game in their opener to powerful Monomoy before a 2-1 loss to Sturgis West, where Bartolomei scored the first goal in SJP II history on an assist from Sassone.
“It was really exciting because it was my first year ever playing field hockey and my first game,” said Bartolomei. “I was really focused, I saw the ball coming, and I said to myself, ‘I know I’m going to score this goal.’”
As a first-year coach at St. John Paul, Guazzaloca has been involved with field hockey going back 20 years. In 2000, he was approached by one-time Barnstable Athletic Director John Palmer to consider coaching the middle school field hockey team there.
“I knew nothing about field hockey. I had played ice hockey and (Palmer) said, ‘Stop by my office, I have a field hockey stick for you, I have $25 for you, go get a book on coaching field hockey and let me know what you think on Monday,’” he said.
Having previously coached football, basketball and lacrosse, Guazzaloca had never even seen a field hockey game prior to coaching his first one.
“I fell in love with field hockey,” he admitted. “It’s the one sport that I’ve coached that I am most passionate about.”
With 29 players turning out for the first team at JP II, Guazzaloca’s philosophy from the start was to take baby steps with his fledgling team.
“We had to start with the basic skills, and work on simple offense and defensive techniques and schemes,” he said. “Every day I try to add something new and I encourage them to work on these skills at home, as well.”
The first line consists of right-wing Bartolomei; at the center, Lucy Barker, who is the team’s leading scorer; and Sassone on the left-wing.
At midfield are co-captains Gorsuch and Thayer, while on defense are Alex Stampfl, the lone senior on the team, along with freshmen Maya Delancey and Erin Hatton.
Two eighth graders who have played well in the goal are Lili Crofford and Lylah Carli, with the duo sharing time in the squad’s first win.
Other players who make up the squad are sophomore Chloe Lawson, freshmen Sophie Stanley, Olivia Marchand, Maren Jones, Charlotte Sturgis, and Maeve Shortt, eighth-grader Michaela Stampfl, and seventh-grader Mia Curley.
The entire team honored their only senior Alex Stampfl during Monday’s game. The win was the icing on the cake for her.
“It was so amazing,” Alex said after the game. “It’s so special, and we’ve worked so hard to get this.”
And for the first time this season, the Lion field hockey squad left the field victorious on the scoreboard, but winners all season long.
“Everybody can go home now, and we’ll have some good dreams tonight,” quipped coach Guazzaloca.