At Ottawa Hills High School, field hockey is not just a tradition, it s a culture.
The Green Bears have made it to the state Final Four 11 times and won state championships in 1992, 1993 and 1998. Earlier this month, Ottawa Hills upset defending state champion Shaker Heights Hathaway 2-0 in the state semifinals.
The Green Bears lost to Columbus Academy in the finals, but the team had lost key seniors to graduation and started four ninth-graders.
“We had four freshmen on the team, but it was not necessarily a rebuilding year because we seem to reload every year,” said coach Jo Cooley, who is in her 23rd season at the helm. “What we ve created in field hockey at Ottawa Hills is a culture.”
Cooley, who first began coaching in fall 1981, runs a summer camp each year for kids in grades three through five. The instructors include current and former Ottawa Hills players.
“The older players love sharing their passion for the sport,” Cooley said.
Cooley said the camp has led to a winning tradition, of which kids want to be a part.
“It just becomes contagious,” she said. “You put a stick in their hands and it s addictive.”
The junior high and junior varsity programs return the favor and support the varsity team, she said. And they had plenty to cheer about again this year.
The Green Bears finished with a 14-5-1 record. They scored 36 goals and yielded 17.
Ottawa Hills had that success despite the fact that Cooley had to replace two of her most talented players in two of the most critical positions. Goalie Tory Krauss and right wing Lauren Kruse had stellar prep careers and are now playing for Ohio State University.
“The right wing brings the ball up the field so you have to have a really strong right wing and of course you have to have a strong goalie,” Cooley said.
Freshman Molli Anderson stepped in as the team s new goalkeeper. Anderson did not give up a goal in the state playoffs until the final. She made 10 saves in the Green Bears upset of Hathaway Brown. Cooley said she has never started a freshman in goal.
Cooley had five seniors, eight juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen on her varsity roster. The four freshmen saw plenty of playing time.
“I typically only take one freshman [on the varsity],” she said. “Unless they re going to get a decent amount of playing time, I m not doing them any justice.”
But the four freshmen not only played, they contributed.
Freshman Hollis Barber, a left winger, led the team in scoring with 10 goals.
But Cooley also got good play out of her upper classmen.
Senior Elizabeth Huebner, senior Jenny Stancati and junior Laura Trickey tied for second on the team with six goals apiece.
Huebner, a left midfielder, also led the team in assists with eight and will continue playing at the collegiate level. Princeton, Northwestern and Hofstra universities have expressed interest in Huebner.
Stancati, who has committed to play at Northwestern, was the “quarterback” of the team at center/midfielder.
Trickey, a left inner midfielder, was second in assist with five. Another junior, Gabby Hajjar, scored five goals from her right wing position. Hajjar filled the role vacated by Kruse.
Sophomore Laurie Wilkins, who plays right inner, was third on the team in assists.
Junior Hali Poulos, who has played since she was a freshman, was phenomenal as a defender, according to her coach.
“She was just dynamite,” Cooley said. “She was the heart and soul of our defense. “
Three seniors, Erica Bing (forward), Shannon Madore (back/sweeper) and Kendra Gladieux (forward) all also made huge contributions to the team, according to Cooley.
“I haven t had a team like this in a long time, “ said Cooley. “They were just a unit. “
Cooley said all 20 kids on the varsity were both skilled and motivated.
“We had extremely fast kids,” she said.
While Cooley said she believes in the old adage that defense always wins game, she said the strength of this year s team was the offense.
The team s defense continually improved as the season went on and never lost by more than two goals except in one game. That loss came against Hathaway Brown, who beat the Bears 5-1. But Cooley said the game was the second of a double-header and her team was exhausted.
“We had no fresh legs,” she said.
Ottawa Hills subsequently avenged that loss and ended the Blazers 37-game winning streak.
“This ranks right up there with the 1992 and 1993 teams,” Cooley said. “They surpassed my expectations.”
And with the majority of starters returning next season, the Ottawa Hills field hockey culture looks like it will continue to thrive.
“We have three more years with this goalie and that is your key position in field hockey,” Cooley said.