Nicole Vigna has taken charge of the Hamilton West field hockey team’s offense and defense from her position at center-midfield. Thanks to her efforts, the Hornets have their highest win total in four years. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

For Nicole Vigna, field hockey had everything but the skates.

That was pretty much her mindset when she decided to delve into the sport in fourth grade.

“They were handing out fliers at school, and I thought, ‘That sounds really cool,’” Vigna said. “I thought, ‘I like ice hockey, I like watching it. So maybe field hockey will be cool.’”

The irony is if the Hamilton West senior played ice hockey, her statistics would probably be more impressive than the one goal and two assists she had for Hamilton West with two games remaining on the schedule this year.

“She’s been such an integral part of our team,” Hornets coach Kerryn Campbell said. “But you don’t always see it in the stats. She might usually have the assist before the assist.”

Like in ice hockey?

“Yeah,” Campbell said with a laugh. “That’s what everybody says.”

The beauty of Vigna, however, is that statistics don’t tell her value. Playing center-midfield for the first time in her career, she is in charge of making things go offensively and defensively. After playing right halfback on defense her first two varsity seasons, she has been the Hornets most consistent player in her new spot.

“I just recognized I needed her at center mid,” Campbell said. “She has been a playmaker for us, and the consistency has been the biggest thing. She’s a captain, she is a leader on the field, she kind of has a presence. When she has the ball, girls know to move for her. They know they can trust her with the ball, she can stop the ball, she can drive the ball, she has the stickwork to get around somebody, she’s got great defensive skills. She’s very versatile, we need her on defense and offense. She has a lot of heart and she just loves this game so much.”

The love affair started when she responded to that flier and went to the Veterans Park summer camp run by former Hornet coach Judy Goldstein, who stepped down last year. Like many newbies, Vigna was a bit dumbstruck by the sport. Or, in her words, “I was flabbergasted!”

“She put me in for, like, 30 seconds,” Vigna said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what these calls are.’ And then I’m thinking, ‘I guess I’m meant to be here. I don’t know.’”

But she quickly began to improve and her passion for the sport began to grow rapidly. Vigna was told by Goldstein that she bleeds field hockey, and Vigna doesn’t disagree. She soon moved on to clubs in Princeton, which takes the sport a little more seriously, and got better by playing against higher level competition.

‘Everybody just works well with her… All she wants to do is to see the team succeed and help everybody grow.’

Vigna was one of those rare players who entered Hamilton West with actual field hockey experience. She played for Campbell on the JV team as a freshman and was elevated to varsity her sophomore season as a starting defender.

“Ever since fourth grade I played defense,” Vigna said. “I always wanted to play mid so this year I got it, I’m so happy. I was so excited when she told me.”

The attraction is understandable, as Vigna gets to see how the other half lives.

“I always wanted to just be on both sides of the field, I always wanted to score,” she said. “Just being on defense you always get that sort of stigma that you’re not able to score. I think it’s just a great thing to be in the middle because you help out everyone, everyone helps you out. It’s great.”

Another plus, is that Vigna is able to utilize all her skills, rather than just trying to shut someone down all the time.

“On offense you use pulls and good passes,” she said. “On defense you have to have good blocking, good stops, good drives. Everything is mixed together.”

Campbell feels Vigna’s field hockey intelligence is a big reason for how she adapted so quickly to her new position.

“She just knows the game,” the coach said. “Everybody just works well with her. We have a lot of seniors this year who are working well with everybody. All she wants to do is to see the team succeed and help everybody grow. She helps people with stickwork, tells people where to be on the field. She’s very much a rare breed, I’m gonna be sad to see her go.”

Vigna’s efforts helped Hamilton to three victories by mid-October, which may not seem like much until one considers it’s the Hornets highest total in four years. Vigna thinks cohesion has made a difference.

“This whole team gets along well,” she said. “Yeah we have up and down games, but we still have the team spirit after every game. That’s the biggest difference (from the past two years). I loved the teams from the previous years but I just love this team so much. This is something really special.”

Just as the sport is special to Vigna, who enjoys the family atmosphere of being part of a team.

“It’s the highlight of my day,” she said. “When I’m in school I’m like ‘I just want practice, I just want the game.’”

Sounds like someone who’s not too interested in her schoolwork, right?

Wrong.

Vigna has a weighted GPA of 4.6 and ranks 11th in her senior class. She is vice-president of the National Honor Society, a member of the Spanish Honor Society and Key Club, and a peer leader. She also plays lacrosse in the spring but is more a fan of hockey.

“Field hockey has more advanced skills you can learn, I think it’s a better game in general,” she said. “I am definitely going to play some sort of field hockey next year. Probably club. I might try to walk on a team or I might not. But I’m definitely going to keep field hockey in my life because it’s definitely a passion of mine.”