When Aly Luiso arrived for the first day of Rye Neck field hockey practice, she noticed something a bit unnerving.
A quick count of players totaled 11. Add in the two goalies and Rye Neck would going into the 2010 season with 13 players. The lack of players appeared to be scary at first, but Luiso and her teammates quickly accepted the situation.
"It was definitely kind of a scary thought," said Luiso, who will be starting on varsity for a third year. "Everyone has to be in tip-top condition. We're going to take it one step at a time, work our hardest and we want to have fun."
As a result of the limited number of players, Rye Neck is well aware of one thing— conditioning will be of utmost importance.
Rye Neck began addressing this during summer captains' practices. The fact that all 13 players are returning made the commitment to conditioning easier to accept.
"The past couple of years we've been good when it comes to conditioning," said Luiso, who returns to left wing. "We know that we will all have to be in better shape, though. We've been doing more running, more than in previous years.
"When it's for running, we are all ready to do it and we know we have to do it. There is no complaining. We know that it is going to make us better and stronger."
Third-year Rye Neck coach Niki Bolnik has been pleased with her team's approach to conditioning drills.
"The girls are working extremely hard and are dedicated," said Bolnik, a former Lakeland standout who coached at Rye before coming to Rye Neck. "They are on time to practice, if not early, and they encourage each other that they will get through it."
Rye Neck qualified for sectionals in Bolnik's first year before enduring a difficult 2009 season. Despite this, Rye Neck kept active, playing in the Mamaroneck winter league.
This experience, along with the captains' practices, prepared the Panthers for the season.
Luiso will balance the field for Rye Neck with her stick work and speed on left wing. Classmate Jenna Cohen will join Luiso up front. Fellow seniors Claire Behar (who was all-league last year) and Lily Zinaman will be at midfield, with Olivia Meyers and Kaitlyn Murphy playing defense.
Junior Hannah Pedersen will be a midfielder and classmates Tessa Goode and Amanda Hurlbut will be on defense. Yasmine Gourchane, who split time in goal with sophomore Elena Hurlbut last year, will again share net minder duties with Hurlbut.
Sophomore Nicole Morgan will orchestrate at center mid and sophomore Athena Nathan, who was accepted into the field hockey Futures program, is a forward. Rye Neck will be without senior Emily Morningstar, a starter last year, who is out for the season with an injury.
The team is already a cohesive unit and one that is putting a smile on Bolnik's face daily.
"I like the way they have been playing and working together as a team," Bolnik said. "They come to practice every day wanting to learn more. To me, that is a great student-athlete."
Despite the muggy conditions recently, Rye Neck continues to be refreshed and ready to go.
"We feel each day we get on the field we have more energy, even with the humidity," Luiso said. "Practice has been going great. We want to play and want to get better each day."