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Vikings field hockey teams come out swinging

Passing, shooting and basic defensive skills were the main focus.

The team was brand new, and save for one or two players on the squad, none had ever as much as picked up a field hockey stick. Some had never even seen the game played.

Fast forward 12 months, and the Vikings are a dramatically different team. With a year of experience under them collectively, they have progressed to developing some of the more conceptual aspects of the sport, and perhaps even better than that, they’re winning.

After a debut season during which they won just one game, the Vikings started their 2006 campaign with a 3-1 record. As they entered the week of Sept. 18, they had beaten Morse High School, 9-0, toppled Clairemont, 7-0, and upended Canyon Crest, 7-0.

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Suddenly, it seems, coming out to practice and games is a lot more fun for the members of La Jolla’s team.

“That first win was a big surprise,” team leader Claire Mittermiller said. “We had all worked really hard in the offseason and leading up to the season, and it really paid off. Last year, we didn’t expect to win a lot of games because we were a brand-new team. We just tried to keep the scores low. When we did win (late in the season), it was really exciting.

The transformation from a band of rookies to a team capable of winning regularly wasn’t an easy one.

Vikings Coach Kristy Wolfmayer started behind the eight ball last year because she wasn’t hired until the second day of school. Without having the benefit of pre-season practice or any established players, she said she focused on the absolute basics and emphasized defensive competency over all else.

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It wasn’t until the season was over that she started implementing new elements into her players’ games. She worked on developing offensive skills, made sure they were proficient stick handlers, then worked on shooting drills, and, finally, putting in a small set of offensive plays to run.

“Executing a reverse drive is difficult when you can’t even do a regular drive,” Wolfmayer said. “We worked on a strong-side drive last year, and now some of the girls are up to their reverse-side drives and reverse sweeps. We’re doing more things on the left side, which is more difficult.”

Much of the transformation happened during the offseason on Sundays, when Wolfmayer held voluntary workouts for her players and those from other high schools.

“We had about 8-20 kids who would show up every week,” Wolfmayer said. “We’d just do simple drills. It was a fun environment. It wasn’t a learning environment. We worked on our skills. A lot of them worked on their basics a lot, and so far, it’s paid off. They’re doing a good job.”

Thirteen of the team’s 20 players are returners from last year’s squad.

Among the leaders is Mittermiller, the team’s top scorer, with eight goals through the season’s first four games. Sandra Harpster is second on the squad with six goals.

Lauren Steinmetz has been one of La Jolla’s most effective midfielders, helping smooth the transition from defensive play to offensive play. And perhaps the biggest force behind those three shutouts in the team’s first four games is defender Kaitlin Sharpe.

Wolfmayer set a personal goal at the start of the season to finish with no worse than a .500 record. After getting off to such a good start, she may have to amend that goal.

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"(Winning) definitely helps the girls’ spirits and helps them go on. Last year was difficult. It was a learning experience, but we worked a lot in the offseason. We’re a lot stronger now that we have some experience.”