For Episcopal, offense often starts with defense

Episcopal's Ali Rushton (right) defends Notre Dame's Taylor Leonhardt.
Episcopal's Ali Rushton (right) defends Notre Dame's Taylor Leonhardt. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 15, 2013

If Gina Buggy had her way, a goal in the Episcopal Academy field hockey scorebook would be recorded something like this: "Goalie save, defender clear, across midfield, assist, goal."

A scoring play for her Churchwomen, she said, typically begins on the other end of the field.

"When you call scoring, you give the direct assist, but I think for our team we recognize where that run started," said Buggy, the 28th-year Episcopal coach.

"It's the defender who stepped up, cleared the ball, got it to [midfield]. We ask, 'Where did that goal come from?' Sometimes, it starts with a good save."

What Buggy calls Episcopal's "dynamic" offense led the Churchwomen to a 20-1-1 regular-season record and a second-place finish in the Inter-Ac League. On Thursday, Episcopal will host No. 4 Hill School as the top seed in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools field hockey tournament. The game is scheduled for 2:45 p.m.

The Churchwomen beat Mercersburg Academy, 3-0, in the tournament quarterfinals Tuesday. Episcopal won the second annual Independent Schools tournament last year, defeating top Inter-Ac rival Notre Dame in the championship game.

However, the Irish got the better of the Churchwomen in the Inter-Ac this year and won the league title for the first time since Notre Dame's undefeated 2010 season. Notre Dame and Episcopal split their season series, 1-1, but a Churchwomen tie with Agnes Irwin in their last game of the season surrendered the league title to Notre Dame.

Seeding for the Independent Schools tournament was done before the Inter-Ac was decided, so Episcopal earned the No. 1 seed and Notre Dame was seeded second.

Buggy said the key to advancing through the tournament and taking advantage of the likely opportunity of facing Notre Dame in the tournament final is to rely on the Churchwomen's version of field hockey small ball.

In practice, Episcopal uses "flow drills" instead of shooting drills. A possession is practiced beginning not in the offensive zone, but from the start of the process in the back.

The Churchwomen practice transferring the ball from defenders to midfielders, before moving it up the field to get a shot.

The Episcopal coach, whom players call "Miss Buggy," said the most important aspect of an efficient field hockey offense is movement.

"You have to know what you're going to do before you get the ball," Buggy said. "Possess the ball cleanly. Be dynamic when you have it. Be a threat with the ball. And always expect the ball."

Senior forward Lexie Curry, who also plays lacrosse and basketball, said field hockey game play is unique in its constant momentum.

"It's very different," Curry said. "Especially defensively, you can see the difference, just the way you have to position your feet. In basketball, you can cut a girl off and get her stuck somewhere and you're done, but in field hockey because the ball is never in your possession or her possession, you can never really settle."

Curry was the team's second-leading scorer in the regular season with 21 goals. Sophomore forward Margaux Paolino led the team with 27. After Episcopal goals are scored, however, the whole team gets credit.

"I'll say, '[Defender] Ali Rustin, you were responsible for that goal,' " Buggy said, describing a post-goal huddle. "Her stripping the ball and coming up with it - she was responsible for that play, even if it ended up on someone else's stick."


jcranney@philly.com@joey_cranney

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