It looks like “Little Shea Walsh” is turning into Big Danielle Sieja.
Now a junior for the Robbinsville High field hockey team, Sieja made an immediate impression on her coach. In Sieja’s freshman year, Jenna Colicchia saw in her some of the outstanding qualities that one of the top players in Ravens’ history possessed.
“I saw a little bit of Shea Walsh in her,” Colicchia said. “The aggression, the speed and the hunger to want to score. I think she’s very coachable, she listens, and she’s finally put it all together in this junior year.”
She sure has. After scoring five goals as a sophomore, Sieja blew past that total with seven goals in the Ravens 2-3 start this season. Those comparisons to Walsh—who had 66 goals and 31 assists in three varsity seasons—are starting to take on more meaning this year.
“I think she grew about a foot in the last year,” Colicchia said. “We used to joke and call her Little Shea, and now they’re the same size and height so it’s an awkward nickname now.”
Sieja doesn’t find it all that bad.
“That’s an honor, she’s an amazing player,” the forward said. “When I got here, Hannah Shea (17 goals, 7 assists) was a senior and Shea Walsh was a junior. I used to watch them and look at their stick skills, try to copy what they did and try to follow their footsteps.”
And while Sieja may not reach the incredible numbers Walsh put up, especially playing in a COVID-19 shortened season, she is starting to make a name for herself now that Walsh is graduated.
In the season opener, Sieja tallied a hat trick in Robbinsville’s 4-0 win over Steinert. She proceeded to score at least one goal in the first four games.
It was not what Sieja expected, but she wasn’t complaining.
“I’m definitely surprising myself because last year I went back and forth between JV and varsity,” she said. “This year I’m starting varsity and have a lot of goals, which is really surprising.”
There are several reasons for that, with one of them being a built-in practice partner in twin sister and midfielder Sydney. Both play field hockey and lacrosse, and display that classic “sisterly love” when going against each other.
“You would never know they were sisters; they don’t favor each other but they do push each other in practice,” Colicchia said. “Sometimes I need to separate them because they go too hard against each other. But I like the intensity both of them bring to the field.”
“We can’t practice together anymore during practice because we go too hard and end up hurting each other,” Sieja said with a laugh. “Having her helps a lot because we’re both competitive with each other and we always try to be the best. We go against each other (at home) all the time to try and help each other get better.”
They have done just that, as Sydney had made a name for herself prior to this season while Danielle is now emerging. They also compete academically, as Danielle has a 3.9 grade point average and Sydney a 3.8.
Sieja didn’t pick up a stick until ninth grade. She ran cross country at Pond Road but didn’t like the individual aspect of the sport.
“I like being with the team,” she said. “But I do love running. I run track in the winter. It keeps me in shape and gets me ready for lacrosse.”
Her love of running was apparent the first day she set foot on the field as a freshman. Each week, Colicchia gives out a Teammate of the Week Award. In 2018, the first week’s winner was none other than Sieja.
“We did a hard run and she came in first,” Colicchia said. “She was exhausted and for a freshman to come in and crush the run like that, it spoke volumes about the person that she was. She started out that way and she’s been growing on that ever since.”
“I was not expecting that at all,” Sieja said. “I just ran fast and made myself standout because my strength is my running.”
Danielle played JV as a freshman, although she did see varsity time in lacrosse. She played sparingly on varsity last year but showed some flashes of her potential.
“I think she was still just growing a little more last year,” Colicchia said. “This year, a lot more of the skill have been put together in her game. She’s shooting better and we always talk in practice how you don’t have to wait for the perfect shot; and I think she’s learning it doesn’t have to be pretty to go in. The more she shoots, the more she’s getting opportunities. She looks more confident than she did last year.”
She feels more confident, especially after her big game in the season opener.
“My confidence did go up,” Sieja said. “I thought ‘Yeah I can actually do this.’”
“She’s not afraid to make a big play or to go for that big shot now,” Colicchia said. “Even if she fails, she’s getting back on defense and getting the ball back, so I’m seeing a little more grit and confidence than I did last year.”
Adapting to the coaches’ instruction of letting her shots fly rather than looking for an attractive goal has also helped.
“I was trying to get it perfect,” she said. “Now I just swing it in and look for the open spaces without thinking about it. I started thinking less and realized if I slowed down in the circle it helps me a lot. I’m not rushing as much.”
During the off-season, Sieja plays travel lacrosse and has considered that her main sport. But she is starting to re-evaluate things and may want to play field hockey in college.
She still managed to get some stickwork in between lacrosse games.
“I worked on dribbling, pushing, driving and just getting my pulls down,” she said.
Sieja’s goal output was greatly welcomed by Colicchia. After losing Shea and Walsh in consecutive years, the Ravens desperately needed someone to take over a scoring role.
“I felt like I was gonna be one of the top scorers but not THE top scorer,” Sieja said. “We lost all our forwards, I knew I had to step up. But I still want to see my other teammates score and help them out as well.”
Colicchia had no idea who would emerge, but is happy that someone did.
“She really has been filling that role,” the coach said. “I don’t care who scores, as long as somebody does. I still believe that; but she definitely has been stepping up for us this year.
“Not that I was surprised. I always expected she would be someone who would eventually stop feeling like ‘I’m gonna be a passing player and become a scoring player.” I think this was the year I was expecting it the most. She has 100 percent met my expectations.”
And is living up to her nickname in the process.