Watching one of the Regis Jesuit field hockey team’s games is often like watching an oversized game of pinball.
The orange ball pings up and down the field and side to side, redirected by stick after stick before it often ends up in the back of the opposing goal.
Coach Spencer Wagner’s defending state champion Raiders are full steam ahead with the playoffs approaching and have their sites set on a run at a repeat.
“We’ve been working a lot lately on moving the ball around and playing at a faster speed,” senior midfielder Lauren Pendergast said.
“It’s been really fun this season, especially working it through the midfield and working our switches. I think it opens a lot of opportunities.”
Speed of play is something that has the Raiders off to an 11-1-1 start after a strong 2-0 win over a 10-win Mountain Vista team Oct. 9 and put them on target for one of the top two seeds in the postseason, which begins Oct. 24.
Regis Jesuit suffered its only loss of the regular season Sept. 26 with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Colorado Academy, which snapped a 14-game winning streak that dated back to a regular season matchup with those same Mustangs last season.
Wagner was encouraged despite the rare defeat in a game that could have gone either way.
“I thought we played CA equal; we hit a post and we had two goals that went in that got called back, so I did not feel disappointed with that game or think it made any remark towards where we are strengthwise,” he said.
Since the loss, the Raiders have most definitely responded.
They’ve won five straight games and piled up 22 goals in those victories. For the season, they have 48 goals in 13 games after they tallied 55 in 18 games last season.
The switch of junior Cate Lord from midfield to right forward — made in part because of the graduation of seniors that accounted for 30 goals last season — has paid dividends.
With speed to burn and tremendous instincts, Lord puts all sort of pressure on opposing defenses, even as she continues to learn the nuances of the new position.
“Cate had to play middie last year because we needed the legs, but this year when we graduated those senior forwards, she was an obvious fill in as our right forward,” Wagner said of Lord, who has scored seven goals (third on the team behind senior Caitrin Lombardo’s 10 and Pendergast’s eight) and leads the team in assists with nine.
“To get the ball last year, she had to win the ball herself, but it’s nice to have a midfield that can feed her the ball,” he added. “She gets a long hit, runs, passes and runs again. She’s still not that experienced in taking a keeper 1 v 1, but she’s figuring it out as she goes.”
Pendergast — the “point guard” of the Regis Jesuit offense from the midfield — loves to have a weapon like Lord at her disposal.
“I love Cate as forward; I know she’s so quick that if I send her a ball, she’s going to get it,” Pendergast said. “We’ve had a lot of good give-and-goes lately. Sometimes I think she’s too fast for herself. She’s going, but the ball isn’t coming with her all the time.”
Defensively, the Raiders posted a shutout against a Mountain Vista team that also plays at a fast pace and has surrendered just seven goals all season.
Senior goalie Shay Zilvitis and the Regis Jesuit defense has had many games where it hasn’t been tested, but posting a shutout against a strong offensive team like the Golden Eagles came at the right time.
“Our team did a great job on defense and we had to work on communication and how to defend a team that really moves the ball,” senior defender Zoey Dale said. “I think our team is really well connected right now, so it feels great as we get ready to go into playoffs.”
Wagner won’t declare his team postseason-ready, but he relished the test against Mountain Vista and also was happy that his team would face another top-five team — 8-3-3 Palmer Ridge Oct. 17 — in the late stages of the regular season.
“I like where we are, but playoffs are always another story,” Wagner said. “Any time you play another top five team, there’s always a coinflip chance that something lucky could sneak through and if that happens, that’s going to change the result of the game.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports