The field hockey team at the Academy of Mercy, Lauralton Hall, similar to many parochial high school teams, has the ability to attract athletes from a wide sweep of towns surrounding the all-Catholic college preparatory girls school in Milford. That helped the Crusaders to share in the SWC championship with Pomperaug in October and to reach the CIAC Class M finals where as the No. 1 seed they lost to defending champion Wilton 1-0 in overtime in November.
Nearly half the 23 varsity and junior varsity players for first-year coach Kati Cavanagh live in Fairfield. Four of the Crusaders' six captains are Fairfield residents. To say Lauralton Hall wouldn't have reached lofty heights this past season without its heavy Fairfield influence is some kind of a gross understatement.
"They made a huge impact," Cavanagh said earlier this week in reviewing the stellar season in which the Crusaders compiled a 20-1-2 record. Among the 12 Fairfield players, six made significant contributions as starters and six others contributed in roles off the bench as primary substitutes or as occasional players. Captains Jackie Brewster, a junior, and Micaela Murphy, a senior, were two of the four Crusaders who earned post-season honors.
"Absolutely, without them (Fairfield players) we would not be as accomplished as we were," said Cavanagh, who knew many of the players from their offseason involvement with popular club teams from Fairfield County -- the Competitive Edge Field Hockey Club, based in Trumbull, and Fairfield County United, centered in Darien and Greenwich.
Crusaders' senior Maureen Connolly, of New Canaan, was named area MVP by the Connecticut Post and was a first-team All-State forward in Class M. She led Lauralton Hall with 24 goals. If she was their No. 1 field player, then the next two in the Crusaders hierarchy would be Fairfield's Julia Brewster, a defensive midfielder, and Micaela Murphy, a senior sweeper who was the main central defender playing behind Brewster. Brewster was All-SWC and All-State. Murphy earned All-Patriot division honors in the SWC.
Cavanagh inherited six players as captains, four of whom were from Fairfield. In addition to Brewster and Murphy, junior forwards Kara Duggan and Tori Stapleton were Cruaders' co-captains.
"I was kind of shocked at that at first," Cavanagh said. "I couldn't imagine the team without any one of the captains. I attribute how close the girls were because of each of their leadership (styles). All of them were great leaders, and all of them complemented each other real well."
Stapleton flat out rejected the notion that there was any segregation between the Fairfield contingent and players from the other towns. "We were all so close," Stapleton said.
"The great thing about Lauralton Hall is that we're all a family. I think that was our secret weapon. I can call on any of my teammates as sisters," she said.
Some of the Fairfield players went through Fairfield Public Schools before enrolling at Lauralton Hall. A sizeable group, Stapleton said, came from St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in town.
Stapleton said there was a special camaraderie among herself and fellow juniors Duggan and Brewster and non-Fairfield residents Alexa Dawid and Lindsey Spitz, who all picked up the sport as ninth-graders two years ago.
On the field, Brewster "had a phenomenal year, and she's going to be phenomenal next year," Cavanagh said. "She was so strong for us this year." Brewster's tackling prowess was at a college level, Cavanagh said. Brewster played the Class M semifinal, a 1-0 win over No. 4 Avon in overtime on Nov. 12, and the championship game against No. 2 Wilton on Nov. 16 with a broken thumb.
"She was super dedicated," Cavanagh said.
Murphy anchored the defense in front of goalie Rashauna Banks, Duggan contributed several goals and Stapleton's goal production of four was limited because of an injury in September that kept her out of action for almost three weeks. Cavanagh termed freshman defender Maddie Monahan's performance as "amazing in stepping into a starter's role." Monahan played the left side and the right side equally adeptly. "She was huge for a freshman," Cavanagh said. Freshman Kiley Forrest was not the first reserve to come on at forward but Cavanagh said she "made things happen" when she played.
Key players will leave Lauralton Hall in June because of graduation. But many of the younger players who will be asked to step into more prominent roles in late August 2014 are Fairfield residents.
Sophomores Payton Kiel and Lily Prince are forwards; Megan Dowling is a sophomore midfielder; Kristen Dowling is a freshman defender; Michaela O'Donnell is a freshman who played forward and midfield. Senior Sarah von Euler played as a reserve forward in 2013.