Wilmette, Sports

Non-IHSA sports field hockey and ice hockey are on very different paths

Ice hockey to play only practice games, while field hockey season begins March 1

The news from the Illinois High School Association last week filled the preps sports community with surprise and joy. 

After all, a 10-week sports hiatus was about to end across the state, and every sport the IHSA governs had clear direction on a 2021 season.

But the IHSA does not govern all high school sports. 

Two others — ice hockey and field hockey — have had to work it all out separately. 

For all intents and purposes, there will be no high school ice hockey in Illinois this school year. 

Despite the eased state restrictions that allow for play, the state tournament was already canceled Jan. 19 by the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois.

A letter from AHAI announcing the change said the decision could not be reversed.

New Trier girls hockey coach Lenny Munson said that the tournament’s cancelation left programs with limited options. 

While the season officially extends until mid-March, many high school teams ended their campaigns after the Jan. 19 announcement. 

With news of the state’s loosened restrictions, Munson and the Trevians attempted to schedule some competition. He “called everybody” but only three programs returned interest. 

New Trier will play nonofficial games with Loyola Academy, Latin School and a co-op out of Naperville, and whoever else answers the phone, until the season officially ends in mid-March.

“It was pretty disappointing,” Munson said of the tournament cancelation. “They maybe could have done an abbreviated season.”

The state’s girls hockey season was cut short by COVID-19 fears in March 2020, when the Trevians were firmly marching toward a state title.

This will make two straight years of no tournament for arguably the best girls hockey team in the state.

The Trevians boys teams are in a similar position this year, Munson said, scheduling just practice games as the season wanes.

Off the ice, another hockey is set to return to play.

Field hockey, a non-IHSA sport that was pushed from the fall to spring, will follow the same season parameters as boys soccer: March 1-April 17. 

I am very thankful. We have a really good athletic department that is really supportive of all the sports. … The girls are ready to go; they have been ready to go.” Stephanie Nykaza, New Trier High School field hockey coach

Four New Trier Township high schools — New Trier, Loyola and North Shore Country Day — compete in the sport. 

Trevians coach Stephanie Nykaza praised the school’s athletic director, Augie Fontanetta, for fighting for all sports to resume.

“I am very thankful,” she said. “We have a really good athletic department that is really supportive of all the sports. So now momentum is up. The girls are ready to go; they have been ready to go.”

New Trier is the winner of the last two state field hockey championships, but it will not have the opportunity to defend its crown this school year. Just like other fall-displaced sports — football, boys soccer and girls volleyball — field hockey will not have a state tournament. 

It’s not an easy thing for Nykaza to stomach, especially as she watched programs on the East Coast, where New Trier’s team annually takes competitive trips, play through a normal season in the fall.

But having a season, any season, is a positive when weighed against the pandemic negatives, she said.

“It was hard for us to watch (those tournaments),” she said. “But now we’re going. I’m positive. I’m excited. I know the girls are getting excited. I feel energy in the school.”

Another challenge specific to field hockey and soccer, and football a couple weeks later (March 19), will be the weather. 

In Chicagoland, 30-degree temperatures are normal on March evenings. In 2020, it snowed through April 17. A year earlier, it snowed on April 27. 

Then there’s the rain: March and April rank No. 2 and 3, respectively, of the rainiest months in Chicago.

It will be quite the change for Nykaza’s Trevians and other field hockey squads, which are used to playing in warmer months with rarer precipitation (October and September).

Nykaza said a wet artificial surface slows down the ball — and thus, the game. 

“We like a slick surface,” she said. “March 1 is probably going to look a lot like it does right now (snow on the ground). I don’t know how we’re going to start games then.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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