The Cougars field hockey team has less members, but they have enough experience to allow the coaches to use varying strategies depending on opponent without chemistry issues.

by Andrew Garda

The Montclair Kimberley Academy field hockey team’s 2018 season is well under way, but things look a little different for coach Gia Nappi’s squad this year.

The bench is smaller for example, with a lot of freshmen around the program, although most are not with the varsity squad.

There’s also the chameleon-like approach to game planning.

For example, against Oak Knoll during Tuesday’s game — unfortunately a 8-0 loss for the Cougars — MKA deployed a heavier defensive formation, sacrificing offensive personnel for defenders.

Nappi said that the team’s formations will look different again when they play Union High School on Sept. 15. And it will look different again when they meet crosstown rivals Montclair High School — who were in attendance for Tuesday’s game — on  Oct. 1.

“We’ll have a plan going into each game and depending on who we are playing, that sets what structure we’re going to play in,” Nappi explained. “It will never be the same every game. “

Nappi said she can do this in part because she has so many returners.

“They’re used to each other, so we can do things like that, switch positions each game if we have to. And they’re comfortable enough with each other that it doesn’t throw off the chemistry.”

One position which won’t be changing anytime soon is goaltender, where GiGi Jacobson has returned for another season. While the outcome or Tuesday’s game wasn’t what the Cougars wanted, Jacobson made multiple tremendous saves to keep things from getting out of control.

Cougars goaltender GiGi Jacobson shouts commands to her defense. Coach Gia Nappi said the staff loves her energy and communication.

Jacobson is an excellent communicator too, shouting orders and encouragement to her players that can be heard anywhere on the field.

“She’s like that every game,” Nappi said. “We just played Glen Ridge and she made the difference for us in that game. We won 3-0 and a lot of that was because of her. We’re proud of her for that and we keep encouraging that because it trickles up the field. The girls hear her and then they feel like they want to communicate too.”

Jacobson isn’t alone. Nappi is looking to several other players to help out. Lindsey Yu is the Cougar’s center-midfielder and along with Kirsten Zueg, and Steph Vencalkova, a captain.

While those are important players though, Nappi said the team isn’t looking to just one player as a standout.

“Obviously, Lindsey is the most skilled player on the team,” Nappi said. “That’s a known thing. But we have 10 other girls surrounding her who are just as good. When they work together they’re unstoppable.”

Which means that while Tuesday didn’t go their way, it’s only a matter of time before the Cougars are back on a roll.