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The Yankee Express

First-year coach looks to rebuild young team


The Grafton field hockey team was able to qualify for the Division 2 State Tournament last fall and manage to upset Nauset 2-1 in overtime before falling to Holliston in the second round. The Gators graduated ten athletes frrm last year’s tournament team in addition to their coach. Last year’s assistant varsity coach and junior varsity head coach Melissa Aiksnoras took control of the team this year. 
“We are a very young team in general this year and will be losing another ten or so girls after the season,” the first-year varsity coach said. “We have a solid base of girls, but no youth teams to pull from so we have some work to do.”
Aiksnoras took over the team having known a majority of the girls having already been in the Grafton coaching system. She also is a native of the town and played high school field hockey for the Gators, so taking over as the head coach was a relatively easy decision for her when given the opportunity.
“Having no programs to use as building blocks I don’t want field hockey to become a dying sport in Grafton. I am hoping that we can continue to grow and improve,” she said. “I believe that the team can get back into the tournament once again this year while going as far as we can. Obviously I want to win, but getting the team, especially the younger girls, the experience is just as important.”
With only three returning starting seniors Aiksnoras will have to rely on the trio for help in her first season as the head coach. Coming to the aide of their coach will be defensive back Taylor Coonan, goalie Ava Martin and midfielder/forward Brie Dwyer. 
Each girl brings their own unique play to the field. Coonan is a strong, but silent, lead by example player who allows nothing to get by her; unfortunately, she has been injured. Martin is the primary goaltender this fall who according to her coach, is all over the place and has been making some crazy saves for the Gators this year. She is a self-motivated individual who has averaged about 20 saves per game. 
Dwyer is a versatile athlete and easily the most skilled player on the field for the Gators and has already committed to play for Bryant University next fall. She sees the field effectively and can control the entire field; she is one who can score or distribute the ball to her teammates allowing them to deposit the ball behind the opposition’s goalie. Dwyer can easily transition from offense to defense and vice versa seamlessly.
Aiksnoras will be counting on her senior starters for dependability as well as reliability to promote a team environment.
“We have a whole new line-up this year with a lot of sophomores on the varsity team,” she said. “So, I am going to need them to lead and teach. I am also new in the school, so they also assume the go-to role for the younger girls with questions.”
Grafton has a nice balance of personalities amongst the older and younger athletes on the team, however at the time of this writing the squad was having a difficult time amassing wins. 
“We are nowhere where we wanted to be at this part of the season,” Aiksnoras said. “We have made a great turn around and have been playing better as of late and want to finish the season strong so that the girls who return for us next year feel comfortable with one another.”
Having so many younger players Grafton had its issues getting use to one another in the early part of the season while playing a rather difficult schedule, but as the season is wrapping up they are getting use to one another’s tendencies on the field.
One of the incoming sophomores who has made a contribution to the team in her first varsity experience is Olivia Veins, a forward who has stepped into her role and shown she can play on the varsity level.
“Olivia has scored a majority of our goals and if she is not scoring she is assisting,” the Graton coach said. “Being the JV Coach I definitely knew of her potential. She is also a hockey player with a natural hand to eye coordination of the stick. I figured that she would transition easily from ice hockey to field hockey (a sport that she only got involved in through the urging of the seniors last fall).”
As the team has been coming into their own, the coach believes that the incoming sophomores have shown that they can compete, and credit should go to them. 
“At times there is a lot of pressure put onto these girls as they are stepping onto the courses with only one year of experience. The sophomores in general are put into a tough position, but it’s not all on them, it’s a team effort because they can’t do it on their own,” Aiksnoras said. “They have all been working together well and I am proud of what these girls have accomplished. Every year you learn from the past to get better and we’ve been doing that every match this year.”
As the Grafton runners get better as a whole, they are encouraging the sophomores to be the best that they can while building the Grafton field hockey program. The Coach not only likes what she has seen from the incoming class this year but is also excited about those who will be moving up to the varsity squad from the JV team as well as all the freshman who will be looking to join the program next fall.
For the time being Aiksnoras is hopeful that her girls will continue to improve as the year goes along and although a rebuilding type of year she would like to see the squad once again venture into the Division 2 State Tournament and go further than the second round.