Lawrence field hockey player Caroline Bartosik works with the ball during a 1-0 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Sept. 15 was dragging for Caroline Bartosik. The Lawrence High School field hockey team had just lost to Hightstown, 2-0, the night before, and it was a tough day back at school.

Head coach Megan Errico didn’t feel so energetic either. But what the fourth-year head coach heard from her center back gave her a lift.

“We were both really tired after the Hightstown game,” Errico said. “Caroline said, ‘I’m ready for school to be over…’ I thought she was going to say, ‘…so I can go home.’ She said, ‘I just want to go to practice and then go home.’ It’s definitely a big part of her day, and it’s really important to her. She’s a really good track runner, but I see how much she loves field hockey.”

Bartosik just started her third season of field hockey. She took up the sport at the urging of her best friend, fellow junior Olivia Corso, when both were freshmen. Bartosik didn’t know all the rules, but the multi-event track and field athlete had speed, and she played aggressively. In track and field, she favors the triple jump and 200-meter sprint. She also long jumps, runs the 100-meter dash and can run the 4×400 relay.

She liked field hockey immediately and kept working at it, picking it up quickly.

She was called up to varsity at the end of her freshman year, and now she’s in her second year starting for the Cardinals. She wants to join a club team in the offseason and further her field hockey career beyond high school.

“Freshman year I really enjoyed it, but I never thought more of it,” Bartosik said. “As we went more into the season, I knew I would want to go somewhere with field hockey. I definitely enjoy it.”

The only thing that could add to her enjoyment is a little more team success for Lawrence. The Cardinals fell to 0-4 on the young season with their loss to Hightstown. It followed three heartbreaking 1-0 losses, including an overtime loss to Notre Dame. The Cardinals finally picked up their first win Sept. 16, a 1-0 victory against Nottingham. Corso scored the lone goal.

Errico said though the girls are frustrated, they’re positive, too. They felt good taking Notre Dame into overtime—last season, the Irish beat Lawrence 5-0 in the regular season and 3-0 in the Mercer County Tournament.

“They didn’t come off the field upset or sad or anything,” Errico said. “They came off the field actually smiling, and they were proud of themselves. They know they worked hard. They aren’t really upset about it. The Hightstown game, they were upset. We didn’t show up with our best selves that day. The nerves of the night game and everything I think got to them.”

Lawrence has had its chances. Creating opportunities has not been a problem, and Bartosik, a defender, is doing her part to stifle the team’s opponents in the back. Scoring is the problem. Errico said the girls are shooting, taking corners, playing defense, and clearing the ball, but once they get the ball to the circle, the Cardinals have trouble finishing.

The Cardinals don’t have a lot of depth after transfers, moves and injuries cost them some potential varsity players, but they are far more competitive than they have been in recent seasons. They are more confident about their chances this year.

“We lost a couple seniors, but I feel like those spots have filled in and we all know what we’re capable of doing and try to show it on the field,” Bartosik said. “Our coach and [the team] try to lift each other up and try to improve off our mistakes. We really try to lift each other so no matter what we have fun playing and not get down on the score.”

The Cardinals outshot their first three opponents. They aren’t showing any quit despite not seeing the results that they want on the scoreboard—Errico said the girls are “probably the toughest” she’s ever coached. Substitutions are infrequent, and better passing, stick skills and overall chemistry have all gotten better.

And Bartosik has steadily improved along with Lawrence. She gets more serious about the game each year, though she still also competes in track and field.

This past summer, she and Corso were part of a team from Pennington that traveled to Ireland and Spain for eight days to practice and play field hockey. She learned a lot, she said.

“I felt more confident in my skills, and worked at trying to get past the other girls on the other teams,” Bartosik said. “It helped to be playing with a higher level of girls and coaches.”

The extra dedication is showing this fall. Bartosik is a more polished player and added that she is more comfortable with the fast pace and technical aspects.

Errico agreed. Bartosik is aggressive and quick to the ball, she said. When Bartosik first got started with the sport, she didn’t always know what to do once she got to the ball.

“This year, she is approaching the ball differently, she is breaking down her steps differently,” Errico said. “She’s reading the [opponent] a lot differently —she’s not just seeing the ball, she’s seeing the girl so she’s playing smarter. She has an understanding of the game that’s better. Her hits are getting better, where she can pick up the ball and then send it and pass it to somebody, where before she would just grab it and send it nowhere because she wanted to get rid of it. She’s maintaining her composure.”

While Bartosik played midfield on the trip to Europe, she is most useful to the Cardinals on defense. She has moved up for offensive corners to bring another big stick forward on scoring chances, but her biggest contributions come back on defense, along with seniors Amanda Britton and Kelly Townsend.

“[Britton and Townsed] are really talkative, but Caroline knows how to step up to the ball and take the ball away,” Errico said. “I can count on her in the middle of the field. She understands the play of the game, she breaks down her steps, she does everything you want. I’m lucky all my defenders are so talented in what they do. Caroline, this is only the start of her third year playing and she’s already rising to the level of what Amanda and Kelly have.”

Bartosik also pairs well with center midfielder Paige MacArthur, a senior. The two help give Lawrence a strong backbone in the middle of the field.

“Paige is a really strong player,” Bartosik said. “She knows what she’s doing and has hard hits to get the ball up the field. Her being in the middle helps a lot.”

The Cardinals have shown flashes of their potential. They have played better than in the past. And if they can capitalize on the scoring chances they are creating, the defense has been solid enough that they could start winning more games.

“I think it’s just pushing up and being in position,” Bartosik said. “We have been working hard on being in position and getting the ball in. We know we can do it. We want this for our school and field hockey team so we’re a strong girls’ team in Lawrence.”