In just its third year of varsity play, the Westminster Christian Academy Wildcats field hockey program recorded a winning record.
The Wildcats head into the postseason Midwest Field Hockey State Tournament as the No. 13 seed, its highest ever.
Westminster Christian Academy has yet to win a postseason game. It wants to change that. It is important for the program to win one and keep playing, Wildcats coach Nancy Schmer said.
Schmer is proud of her team’s accomplishments this season.
“Win or lose, this is a group of champions,” Schmer said. “Selfishly, (assistant coach) Jamie (Kuhn) and I are not ready to stop coaching them.”
Westminster will play the Whitfield, a 3-0 winner over Alton Marquette in a tournament play-in game Tuesday afternoon. The Wildcats will play at 3 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 19) at Whitfield. The Warriors are the No. 20 seed in the tournament.
Westminster finished regular season with a 2-0 win over Lutheran South on Monday. The Wildcats ended with a 12-6-1 overall record.
“Our game against Lutheran South was a culmination of the entire season. Everybody played,” Schmer said. “When they were in the game, every girl contributed and gave their best effort. When they were on the bench, they were standing on the sideline encouraging their teammates.
“This has been their attitude since the beginning of the season. This girls sincerely like and respect each other. As a team, they are kind, gracious, and humble.”
Last year, the Wildcats went 5-12-1. That’s quite a turnaround this season.
The big difference, Schmer said, is the seniors on the squad.
“We’ve had exceptional leadership from our 11 seniors,” Schmer said. “Nine of those seniors have been with the program since their freshman year, which was our inaugural season. We played a JV and C team schedule in 2014. They have been through everything together. They have learned how to lose and win with grace and humility.
“As a team, we have built on the personal victories that came with every loss, and this year, we have had a chance to celebrate some victories, learning from them as well. While we have some big shoes to fill next year, our underclassmen are ready to build on the legacy that our seniors are leaving behind. We are confident that our program will continue to thrive.”
Schmer has led the program from the beginning.
She has a long history coaching the sport.
Schmer’s mother, Skippy Keefer, coached her in high school. Keefer, was a legendary field hockey coach and athletic director at John Burroughs. Schmer has been coaching in the St. Louis area for 27 years.
“Skippy still comes out to help volunteer coach at Westminster, when she thinks our goalies or shooters need extra help,” Schmer quipped.
The major strides this program has taken this season are enormous, Schmer said.
“The growth we have experienced as a program is almost unfathomable,” Schmer said. “In 2013, the athletic administration decided to give students a small taste of field hockey. We offered it as a club sport. Thirteen girls in grades eight through 10 participated. Word spread and in 2014, field hockey became a school sponsored sport. We fielded a middle school team as well as full JV and C teams.
“While we should have probably stayed JV a second year, our 2015 group wanted to take their game to the varsity level. Despite their 3-11-1 record, the girls were determined to build on the season’s ‘little victories’ and their 2016 slogan was ‘Level Up.’ The girls started making strides, improving to 5-12 -1 in 2016.”
When practice began in August, Schmer said the girls were determined to make is a good season.
“Our entire program had lofty expectations from day one. As a varsity program, we were optimistic but certainly not overconfident,” Schmer said. “We had many returners, and some new talent coming up and we knew we would gel and improve with every game. Our captains developed the team motto: ‘Fear less.’
“As a team, we committed to take risks, pushing ourselves to achieve personal and team goals. By doing more, we would fear less, refusing to be intimidated by our many talented opponents.”
The play of the Wildcat goalies has been solid. Schmer said the two girls have played well.
“We had help from two talented goalkeepers this season in Meredith Glass and Sabrina Granata,” Schmer said. “Early in the season, Meredith had some injuries and newcomer Sabrina had to step in to the cage. Both keepers have been stellar. Meredith has come up with some big saves to keep us in many games.”
The “defensive wall” in front of the goalie deserve a lot of credit as well, Schmer said. The defense is led by senior captain Bekah Warren. Other standouts are junior Hannah Sturr, Sophomore Luci Hilboldt, and freshman Grace Clement.
Forwards Morgan Sickels, Lexi Berra, Hayley Schmer and Taylor Siebenman are the main offensive weapons for the Wildcats.
“This season, all of our forwards have put the ball in the net. Haley Schmer is our most experienced player and many of our attacks begin with her in the midfield. She is able to distribute the ball and our explosive forwards have been able to finish,” Schmer said about her daughter. “Haley has had support in the midfield from juniors Sophie Clement and Hayley Fizer and senior Jenna Galakatos. Lexi and Morgan have strong stick skills and impressive foot speed. Taylor sees the scoring play building and unselfishly does what she can to set up her teammates or find the back of the net herself.”
The captains trip of Haley Schmer, Siebenman, and Warren have impressed Schmer.
“While our leadership has come from many players on the team, these three have been the heart, mind, and soul of this team,” Schmer said. “Taylor is the heart. She keeps the girls pumped up with her encouragement, insights, and group cheers. Haley has played with some of our area’s finest talent, competing in regional and national tournaments. She brings game sense and experience to an eager group of learners. Bekah is the soul. She is our spiritual rock who is admired and loved by everyone in our program.”
Now, the team can show something in the postseason.
“We were thrilled with our No. 13 seed,” Schmer said. “We think we were fairly seeded and are ready for whatever post season sends our way.”
Schmer said her squad respects the Warriors?
“They are a hard working and dedicated team,” Schmer said. “They are well coached by Maggie Young and will fight to the end. We need to play our game, doing what we have done all season. We need to work together and be ‘Fear Less.’ ”
Her team is ready to play and what it is capable of, Schmer said.
“We know we can win. We have beaten some skilled teams,” Schmer said. “(We) Cannot let nerves get the best of us. (We) Have to remember how far we have come and why we play.
“We knew this would be a history making season. These girls have not disappointed.”