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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

KP’s Cropper Maintains Perspective as Fall Sports Await Decision

Aug 31, 2020 08:41AM ● By KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer

EDITOR’S NOTE: At Local Town Pages deadline, neither Governor Baker nor the Department of Education had ruled on the status of interscholastic sports for the fall.

After all, she’s coached on both the east and west coasts, she started the softball program at Boston University, and she’s directed teams at Tri-County Vocational, Franklin High and King Philip Regional. She’s coached girls tennis, boys golf, girls basketball, softball and field hockey.

Now, as she begins her second year as KP’s field hockey coach, the 57-year-old Cropper is hoping the 2020 season will be played, but she’s acutely aware that health and safety are the top priorities as the country deals with a global pandemic that’s claimed thousands of lives.

“It would be great if fall sports are scheduled but they’ll be different,’’ Cropper said. “We’ll be on pins and needles to keep the season going and the focus will be on keeping everyone healthy. It’s about being flexible and able to adjust. I’m very passionate about sports but the big picture is the health and safety of student-athletes and everyone in our community and the nation. Sports are not the priority. Preserving life comes first.’’

Cropper knows if sports get a green light to proceed, there’ll be procedural changes for field hockey, like distancing, wearing masks on the bench, eliminating post-game handshakes, and utilizing hand-sanitizing stations. She also knows that her 2020 squad is athletic, has depth and experience and is solid on defense.

“Our goals are to qualify for the tourney, contend for the Kelly-Rex Division title, get to the Sectional final and win it,’’ said Cropper, who played on a national championship field-hockey team at the University of Connecticut in 1981. “We need to focus on developing and sharpening our technical skills.’’

Last year’s team split a pair of tourney games, bowing out in the second round to Somerset-Berkeley. Six players from last year’s KP squad have graduated but Cropper will have 18 returnees with varying degrees of experience.

The Warriors’ captains are all seniors — left wing Abby Nixon, goalie Makenzie Manning, midfielder Grace Crocker, and center-forward Olivia Kulesza.

“Abby has outstanding speed and she’s fast and shifty,’’ Cropper said. “She’s technically sound and her stick-work is good. A Hockomock League all-star last year, she was one of our top scorers. Makenzie also was a league all-star. She’s athletic, has command of the field, has a high field-hockey IQ, is instinctive and athletic. Grace is fast, passes well, is agile, athletic and very unselfish. Olivia has a high field-hockey IQ, is technically sound, passes effectively and is a good finisher.’’

Senior Paige Berdos, who started at right wing last year, will be counted on to set up the offense on the right side. “Paige is fast, athletic and very intense,’’ Cropper noted.

A starter at sweeper last year, junior Molly Pillar is a key defender. “Molly gets good distance on her clears,’’ Cropper said. “She’s an intelligent player who’s the anchor of our defense.’’

A trio of seniors — forward Isabelle Crocker, back Alli Beltramini, and forward Kayla O’Brien — buoy the Warriors’ nucleus. “Their experience is a plus and they’ll provide leadership,’’ Cropper said.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, left back Haley Izydorczak won’t be available if the season gets underway. A starter last year, the junior is out for the year as she recovers from a torn ACL. “Losing Haley is significant,’’ Cropper said. “She was steady, fast and tenacious on defense.’’

Before arriving at KP, Cropper coached field hockey at Franklin High at all three levels during a 15-year span. She also started the field hockey program at Dean College. Her varsity teams at Franklin qualified for tourney play eight times in 10 years and won four division championships, primarily because of the attributes she prefers in prospective players.

“The key is to have coachable kids who are willing to learn,’’ Cropper emphasized. “It’s also important to have players who are athletic and have leadership qualities. A high field-hockey IQ is good but that can be taught.’’

A three-time all-American at UConn, Cropper played on two NCAA title teams, one as a player (midfielder) in 1981 and the other as an assistant coach in 1985. Still competitive, she earned roster spots on the USA World Cup Masters team in 2014 (Netherlands), 2016 (Australia) and 2018 (Spain).

As her KP players prepare for their second year with Cropper at the helm, they know what to expect. But, both the coach and her players are in unfamiliar territory as they deal with changes to their sport, thanks to a global virus.

“There’s no playbook for how to deal with a pandemic,’’ Cropper noted. “We’ll have to rely on our own ability to handle adversity and changing situations. It’ll be about adjusting and being flexible.’’

Lisa Cropper hopes field hockey will be part of the fall sports menu at KP but she’s also tuned in to the bigger picture — the health and safety of everyone.