In high school field hockey, it’s not chronological age that counts so much as years of varsity experience.
Madison Tabor, Toni Esposito and Katie Tuthill are all sophomores. They are also in their fourth year and among Greenport/Southold’s top players.
The Clippers (5-10) are young and experienced, the best of both worlds, really. They can expect to be competitive this season and have a bright future to look forward to at the same time.
“I’m really excited about this young team,” said coach Rebecca Lillis, who is looking forward to the journey. “I can’t wait to coach them for the next four years and see where they go.” She added, “I expect big things from them — big things.”
For one thing, the Clippers have Tabor coming off one of the most productive seasons a player has had for the team in recent memory. The forward put up 19 goals and 11 assists last year, earning all-county honorable mention.
Tabor has speed to go with good stick skills and the ability to dodge defenders. She also obviously has a nose for the goal, a valuable trait.
“She’s a fierce player,” Lillis said. “Sometimes I forget that she’s only a freshman.”
Tabor also has a nice understanding with Esposito (10 goals) on the front line.
As much as those three sophomores have played, Sarah Tuthill (Katie’s older sister) has a year on them in terms of team service. Sarah Tuthill, a senior forward and all-conference selection last year, is in her fifth varsity season.
Those players all helped the Clippers reach the playoffs in 2013 for the second time in three years (they lost to Southampton in a Suffolk County Class C Tournament outbracket game).
After having not reached the playoffs since at least 1987, the Clippers made it to the postseason in 2011. They then managed only one win in 2012 before making a big leap forward last year with a revitalized offense that discovered how to score goals.
This year the Clippers are seeded 12th among the 14 teams in Suffolk Division III.
In terms of varsity know-how, the Clippers have some other veterans they can turn to, like senior defender Liz Powe, senior midfielder Stephanie Clark and senior defender Maria Soriano.
Among the five seniors the Clippers lost to graduation was standout goalkeeper Brandi Gonzalez. Her backup from last year, Katie Tuthill, now has the position.
“That’s going to be one of our biggest challenges, but I think Katie can definitely rise to that, though,” said Lillis.
Underscoring the team’s youth is the presence of nine freshmen: forward Ashley Payne, defender Jordan Marshall, left winger Madison Hilton (who will take over the exact same position played by her graduated sister, Victoria Hilton, last year), defender Zoe Medina, midfielder Liz Clark (Stephanie’s sister), goalie Isabelle Torres, forward Ale Cardi, defender Victoria Tondo and defender Shannon Golfer.
The first thing fans will notice when watching the Clippers play home games is the condition of their field at Greenport High School. Irrigation has been installed under the field, which used to be bumpy, dusty and rough to play on. Now the field is carpeted with lush grass. Last Thursday the team held its first practice on the field.
Lillis said the Clippers had a distinct home-field advantage in years past on their bumpy, unpredictable field, but she doesn’t mind losing that advantage in lieu of a level playing surface.
“It’s going to even out their passing, their hits,” she said. “Hopefully, it will keep things a little smoother.”