RALEIGH — When Cardinal Gibbons field hockey coach Amy Adams asked her players how many of them had ever seen a field hockey game, just one raised her hand. None of them had played before.
To learn a new sport is difficult, but to learn a sport with no background knowledge is a unique challenge, so Adams gave the team some homework.
“She told us to go watch the Olympics or YouTube, so we did that,” said senior Shelby Scanlin. Adams even invited a referee to speak with the team about the sport’s rules.
More than a year later, the Crusaders program is in its second season as a sanctioned team, and its first facing only varsity competition. Interest in the sport originally began as a club offering but became an official team under Adams in 2012.
Enduring the growing pains of a new athletic program is tough, but doing so while surrounded by one of the winningest athletic departments in the state adds additional pressure.
“Because of the history of Gibbons being a strong athletic program, teams won’t take it easy on us,” Adams said. “We’re taking our licks now, and that has been the hard part.”
Junior Sarah Comstock said not getting frustrated with less than stellar results is difficult, but the players have learned to support each other more this year than last.
About 60 percent of the school’s field hockey players also play lacrosse, and while the athleticism is helpful, the sports are so different the skills don’t naturally meld into field hockey.
“Most of them play three sports, and they’re used to winning state championships,” Adams said. “We just don’t have the stick skills. You just don’t have the experience. That’s the struggle of building a program.”
Scanlin, a lacrosse All-American who has signed to play lacrosse at Maryland, said that although the learning curve has been frustrating at times, she was looking for a change of pace for the fall season.
“I knew we wouldn’t win a state championship, and I knew we wouldn’t win most of our games, but I wanted to try something new,” she said.
Adams, who played collegiate field hockey at Frostburg State University in Maryland, was an assistant coach with Ravenscroft’s program before landing at Gibbons.
“Coming from Ravenscroft (NCISAA runner-up in 2010 and 2011) and coming here, and you’re really starting from the ground up,” Adams said. “I think it will take five, maybe six years from now, and we’ll hopefully be competing for a state title.”
This year, the Crusaders are focused on trying to win a conference title. Their league consists of three teams -- Gibbons, Carrboro and Riverside.
The Crusaders won their first conference game, 10-0, over Riverside, before falling to Carrboro, 5-1.
Adams’ daughter, Taylor, is a junior on the field hockey team.
“By the time we’re seniors, we want to have more of a winning season than a losing season,” Taylor Adams said. “I want to come back in four or five years if my mom is still coaching and see that they won a title.”
Adams looks at how lacrosse has taken off in the region recently and wants the same for field hockey. Right now there aren’t many recreational or club opportunities within the sport locally, but there are quality college examples, particularly with the University of North Carolina, which has made the NCAA title game for the past four years.
Gibbons also hosts a summer field hockey camp for students in fifth through ninth grades.