Sports Person of the Week
Laska Ready to Lead Through Actions and Words
Junior defender Katie Laska is an emerging leader for the field hockey team at Branford High School. (Photo courtesy of Katie Laska )
Prior to becoming head coach of Branford High School field hockey squad, Pete Frye coached the team at Walsh Intermediate School. That was when Frye met Katie Laska.
Frye says that Katie, who was a 7th-grader at the time, was “the quietest person I’ve ever coached” when they started working together. However, as the years went by, Katie found her voice through field hockey to become both a vocal leader and a staunch defender for the Hornets.
Katie is now entering her junior year as a member of the Branford field hockey team. The Hornets’ senior captains are Andrea Amarante and Alisa Gueco, but with so much uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season, Coach Frye instituted a leadership council that gave other athletes an opportunity to have their voices heard. Katie was one of the players who stepped up and joined the council.
“I’ve always been kind of shy. I’ve always wanted to be a leader for the field hockey team, and I realized that joining the team council would give me that opportunity,” Katie says. “It really allowed me to push myself out of my shell. It gave me an excuse to talk more at practices and cheer people on. I wasn’t afraid to talk. It was nice to step into that role and bring the upcoming freshman into the team.”
Katie’s 7th-grade season marked her first foray into the field hockey. In fact, it was her first time ever playing a team sport. Katie had attended a summer camp run by Cathy and John McGuirk, the longtime coaches of the high school program. When she joined the team at Walsh, Katie was welcomed with open arms as everyone supported her transition to sport.
“It just seemed like a really fun sport,” says Katie. “I had done a summer camp with the McGuirks, and it just seemed like a really cool sport to play. So, when I found out that there was a Walsh team, I was excited to join.”
Katie played at Walsh through her 8th-grade season, after which she signed up for the HTC Field Hockey program in Madison in order to improve her skills. When Katie was a freshman, Frye took over as head coach of the Hornets. Katie decided that she wanted to continue playing field hockey in high school and immediately felt the same sense of camaraderie as she did at Walsh.
“I thought it was going to be a lot scarier than it was. I wasn’t expecting to be as welcomed as I was. It made the transition to high school so much easier,” Katie says. “They showed me around the school, and it made me not so nervous to be a freshman. It was a really nice transition, and it helped that Coach Frye moved from middle school to high school.”
Katie saw some varsity time as a freshman, but spent most of the season competing for the JV team. In her sophomore season, Katie became a full-time member of the varsity squad as a defender. On the opposition’s penalty corners, Katie was tasked with the responsibility of being a flyer, who are players that line up next to their goalie and then sprint out to try to intercept the ball.
It was nerve-wracking for Katie to play varsity as a sophomore, but she learned a lot as a result and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“It was scary at first, especially when I started being a flyer on corners, but it was really fun,” says Katie. “Even when I was on the sidelines, it was really fun to just watch the game and be at a varsity game, experiencing the energy that it has. It was great being a part of such a fun team to play with and have fun playing the games and just really love the sport.”
Coach Frye has seen Katie make immense progress during the past five years. As Katie begins the second half of her high school career, Frye expects her to keep getting better as a player and louder as a leader.
“Katie has always had the skill, but the confidence is starting to come out. It’s really been transformational,” Frye says. “Katie is a really, really good player, but more importantly than that, she has really become a stalwart of our team.”
As she heads into her junior season, Katie wants to be more vocal on the field, while helping Branford’s incoming freshmen get acclimated to the team. Katie understands how important it is for veteran players to take younger teammates under their wing. Katie is looking forward to leading the Hornets through both actions and words as they strive to continue their legacy as one of the best field hockey squads in Connecticut.
“Our coaches always talk about being a vocal leader or a leader by example,” says Katie. “I originally thought I just wanted to lead by example, but coming into this season I realized that I just wanted to have a voice, and I wanted a part in building a legacy with the team. I wanted to contribute to experiences with the team and welcoming the freshmen to the team.”