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Going for Gold

As the time on the clock winded down, Goalie Lily Stambouli ’24 struggled to contain her excitement. She could hardly focus on the ball being passed among her teammates as her gaze flickered back and forth to the dwindling game time. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Stambouli couldn’t believe it — she remembered her first game against Huntington Beach High School when she allowed seven goals, feeling helpless each time she dove to block the ball. Six. Five. Four. Her mind flashed back to cold afternoon practices as she endured the biting wind. Three. Two. One. She remembered how though she hated field hockey as a junior, she now loved every second of it. Stambouli sprinted across the field with an unprecedented speed. Before she knew it, she had achieved her high school dream: winning the Tournament of Champions (TOC).

Stambouli said celebrating the championship title was a special moment for the team.

“I remember feeling a huge rush of relief when the clock hit zero,” Stambouli said. “Everyone ran over towards me, and we celebrated as a team. All the seniors started crying because we were all so happy. Last year was a little rough for field hockey, [so this championship] meant so much to us [It showed us] that we’re a good team, and we’re able to win. It was [an] awesome moment.”

The field hockey team defeated Bonita High School 2-0 in the 2023 Sunset League TOC final Oct. 28. The victory marks the team’s eighth TOC title in program history. The team finished the season with a total record of 14-2-1 with a league record of 7-1.

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Head of Athletics Terry Barnum said the team’s championship title adds to the success of the school’s field hockey program.

“I am extremely proud of our team, Coach Sue Hodgkins and her staff,” Barnum said. “Winning another championship keeps the proud legacy of our field hockey program alive and well. ”

Stambouli said there was a significant improvement in the team’s dynamic compared to the previous season.

“Last year, there was just a lot of negativity on the team between the coaches, the administration and the players themselves,” Stambouli said. “This year, our team meshed so well together, and we were able to connect and have that team bond early on.”

Midfielder Margaux Schlumberger ’27 said she appreciates her close relationship with other players on the team.

“I’ve cherished the connections I’ve made with my teammates, even the ones who are going off to college this year,” Schlumberger said. “I’m so grateful to have gotten to spend this time with them. Playing a sport with somebody [is] so much more than a common friendship, and I’m so glad to have made so many friends this season.”

Many of the team’s starters during the season were freshmen, including midfielder Val Ganocy ’27, who scored both of the Wolverines’ goals during the championship game and won Most Valuable Player honors. Schlumberger said she admires Ganocy’s dedication and love for field hockey.

“[Ganocy] is one of my best friends and one of the most amazing people I have ever met,” Schlumberger said. “It is such a joy to play with her. She brings so much enthusiasm, and she is constantly energetic. She’s always running, and she’s always willing to go that extra mile to get the shot. It has been so fun to grow with her, especially watching her come off of an injury and work so hard to return to absolute sheer amazingness after that injury.”

Field hockey program head Sue Hodgkins said the team’s talented freshmen class has the potential to become outstanding.

“They’re all great kids,” Hodgkins said. “They’re really talented [and] hard-working, and they love field hockey. They all have a bright future in field hockey, and they’re all excited to get better in the offseason.”

Compared to other fall sports, very few fans attended the field hockey team’s home games. Hodgkins said the lack of fans usually did not affect the team’s performance.

“It’s nice for the kids to have their families there,” Hodgkins said. “Of course they appreciate when their classmates come, but we’re only playing to meet our own challenges and goals, so the crowd is secondary. We don’t play for that. It’s nice to have it, and they appreciate it, but we never really play for that.”

Stambouli said although she had contemplated quitting field hockey as a junior, she found a new passion for the sport in her final year.

“I was so close to quitting,” Stambouli said. “I was having a conversation in the middle of the Quad with my coach, saying field hockey doesn’t make me happy anymore. But finally playing on varsity as the starting goalie and being captain of the team gave me the love that I really had for field hockey. I was also playing well. I felt good about practicing, and I was giving [field hockey] an 100 percent effort. I had a big mindset swap. I went from saying, ‘Yeah I don’t really care about this. I’m just here to show up and ride the bench,’ to wanting to win. I wanted to give it my all because the team depended on me.”

Jordan Park ’25, who passed away earlier in March, played on the varsity team during her sophomore year. Defender Glory Ho ’24 said the team was able to come closer together as a group after the loss of a cherished teammate.

“Last year, we lost someone who was truly hardworking and motivational,” Ho said. “While I don’t want to speak for everyone, I think those who knew her and played with her tried to keep that spirit she brought to practice alive. In general, the theme of community was really emphasized this season. Our head coach organized a field hockey retreat over the summer that helped us bond, and we started new traditions this season, such as having a player give a speech before every game.

Hodgkins said the championship was especially meaningful given Park’s recent passing.

“All of these girls were in some way connected to Jordan, whether they played with her last year or played with her club,” Hodgkins said. “Having this be the first championship that we’ve won together since we lost Jordan made it special for sure.”

Ho said playing field hockey has taught her to persevere and embrace new experiences.

“I started playing in seventh grade as a joke,” Ho said. “I’d tell younger players that despite the challenges, I was able to win a championship in the end. I’d [also] tell them to keep an open mind. I never thought I’d love field hockey so much that I’d play it through senior year, but I’ve come to find that in life, the things that became [the] most special to me are the ones I [had] least expected.”

This story was originally published on The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle on November 15, 2023.