If things seem to move especially cohesive for the Notre Dame High field hockey team in the left defensive end of the field, there’s a pretty good reason for that. The two key components have pretty much spent a lifetime getting to know each other.
Senior left back Emily Giuliano and senior left midfielder Maggie Svoboda have been good friends since age 2, as they grew up next door to each other in Lawrenceville. Their field hockey careers have been hit-or-miss when it comes to playing with each other, but in their final season they have both gained elusive starting berths on varsity and are valuable members to the Irish cause.
“We had a hard time finding somebody to play the left-hand side,” said first-year head coach Cheryl Harris. “You have to have a good reverse stick to play the left-hand side. Many girls will try it and just fail or foul. She was doing it well, and she stood out for that. She’s not a loud person on the field. She’s someone who shows what she can do by stickwork. She doesn’t have to brag or shout or anything, she just does her job and she does it well.”
The same goes for Svoboda, who is in her first year on the varsity level.
“She’s all stickwork, and also another quiet player,” Harris said. “She got passed off for varsity last year. I’m sure she was disappointed, but she played a lot on JV. She’s played in different positions. This year I was trying to find a spot for her, and she’s very comfortable at the left midfield position.”
That comfort level has a lot to do with Svoboda’s buddy playing behind her.
“It’s so great,” she said. “Since we’re so very familiar with each other, we communicate really well.”
Giuliano agreed, saying, “It’s been so cool to be able to play with one of your closest friends, especially with all the time we get to play together this year.”
Their journey to this point came from different directions.
Giuliano attended Lawrence Middle School and did not start playing field hockey until the end of eighth grade.
“I had a few friends that played, they kind of got me into it and I just loved it since,” she said. “I was fairly new entering high school. Ever since I’ve been in love with the sport and it’s led me here.”
Upon arriving at Notre Dame, Giuliano played on the freshman team in 9th grade and JV in 10th before being called up to varsity last season. She was a starting midfielder for the JV but, because there was an overload of middies on the varsity, Giuliano got little playing time last year.
Asked if she would have rather remained on the JV and seen action, Giuliano said, “Part of me wanted to play but it was obviously the best experience to be put on varsity no matter what. I just knew the patience would be worth it and pay off in the end.”
And so it did, once Harris decided to move her to the back.
“This year I discovered my defensive skills I guess,” she said. “That’s why I’m here now.”
Harris, Barb Major’s long-time assistant, also discovered those skills this preseason.
“She played very little last year,” the coach said. “But every practice she tried harder and harder. She never complained for a second. This year she came on in preseason with a great attitude, and she stood out right away as a defensive player.”
It is doubly exciting that her lifelong friend is along for the ride.
“I never even knew we’d go to the same high school,” Svoboda said. “So that was great just even being here with her when I got to Notre Dame.”
The two were teammates together for two years—Svoboda also played on the freshman and JV teams her first two seasons. They were separated last year and, although she got ample playing time, Svoboda wished she was on the varsity.
“I rather would have come up and sat but being on JV was a great experience for me and it helped me meet a lot of new people and further my skills through all that playing time,” she said. “Mr. (Kevin) Deal helped me with that and gave me a lot of one-on-one playing time and pointed out specific things I needed to fix.”
Svoboda was talked into playing field hockey at St. Paul’s in 8th grade by her mom, Maureen, who played the sport in high school on Long Island and at Holy Cross University.
“I loved it right away,” she said. “I was kind of not really into it at first. I didn’t want to go to the clinic my mom signed me up for, but as soon as I went, I loved it so much. I made so many friends.”
Like Giuliano, Svoboda slowly moved toward the rear on the field. She began as a forward her first two seasons at ND but was dropped back to midfield last year and has remained there this season. When she’s not getting passes from her friend in the back, she is sending the ball forward.
“She’s got a lot of stickwork, she gives great support to her offense,” Harris said. “She’s very coachable. You can show her anything and you’ll see her practicing it the following day or even in the scrimmage 20 minutes later.”
When they are not playing field hockey, both girls are putting up impressive grade-point averages in the classroom while also participating in numerous clubs.
Giuliano is part of the ND Cares Club, which stages a huge Pink Out and raises cancer awareness in the school, the Marketing Club, English Club and Sign Language Club. Among the colleges she is looking at are James Madison and Elon, and she hopes to go into a sports-related field such as exercise science or physical therapy.
Svoboda is also in the ND Cares and Marketing clubs, and served as a lifeguard at Rambling Pines Camp in Hopewell last summer. She is also sifting through colleges such as Connecticut, Quinnipiac and Delaware in hopes of majoring in business.
It will mark a parting of the ways for the two friends, but at the moment they still have field hockey—and ice cream.
“We work together at the Purple Cow in Lawrence,” Svoboda said. “Sometimes we work the same shifts.”
And is any serious work accomplished, or is it a laughter-filled shift?
“We try,” Svoboda said with a grin, “to get as much done as possible.”