By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When Kristi Troster took over the Egg Harbor Township field hockey program prior to the 2016 season, it didn’t take the former University of Maryland-Baltimore County player long to realize she had a hidden gem in goalie Hailey Rando.
Finding a tough, reliable, consistent goalie is a challenge for many field hockey coaches, and when they have one who can start at the varsity level for multiple seasons it’s a luxury they rarely take for granted. Rando began playing field hockey in middle school, and chose to play goalie because, well, it meant she wouldn’t have to run as much as the other girls. Once she realized she had a knack for the position, she began to get some high level training, and the result has been one of the most outstanding careers in recent South Jersey field hockey history — even if most fans of the sport don’t even know her name.
Rando has toiled in relative anonymity and her name rarely is mentioned among the best players in the Cape-Atlantic League, but, she doesn’t seem to mind. She just likes playing the game, jostling around in the big goalie equipment, and being with her friends and having fun every day. She’s not all that comfortable talking about herself, but coach Troster is never at a loss for words of praise for one of the stars of the Eagles’ program.
“She does a great job back there for us, and defensively it allows us to be a little more aggressive, knowing she’s back there to save us. And she’s been great for the younger kids. She takes the reins in teaching them the things that she has been taught, so our younger keepers are kind of getting the same professional training that she did. Which is great, because it’s hard as a coach to dictate time to everything. So, having somebody specifically working with the younger players is great,” Troster said. “Having a good goalie makes things so much easier because the defense doesn’t have to worry about what is going on behind them. Everybody trusts each other and the job that they are going to do. And Hailey being a wall back there for so long, they’re not worried about if the ball gets behind them. They know they are going to be OK.”
Rando said she hasn’t always been a top level player. In fact, she doesn’t like to reminisce about what she considers a shaky freshman year, even though she ended up as the team’s starter halfway through that season and has never relinquished the spot.
“I started playing goalie in seventh grade, then I got training up in Gloucester County. There’s a travel team up there that had a goalie coach. My freshman coach told me to just go and see if I liked it, that it would help me, and I stuck with it,” Rando said. “I have videos (from my freshman year) and they are cringe-worthy. They are hard to look at. But now my fundamentals are so much better and I can do so much more. It’s been a complete transformation. Experience is the key, the more you play the better you get (at the position).”
The Eagles were 7-11-1 heading into the state playoffs, but play in the rough-and-tumble CAL American Conference and powerful teams such as Ocean City, Mainland Regional and Millville appear twice each season on EHT’s schedule, and they also have to deal with the likes of Absegami and Atlantic City, as well as crossover games against teams like Middle Township and St. Joseph. Rando racked up more than 250 saves a year ago, and as of Oct. 23 she had 199, good for 22nd in the state. She also allowed just two goals in two games this season against Mainland, a team with 13 victories.
“I like playing goalie. I don’t like all the stick work, that’s not for me. I’m like a big marshmallow stomping around the field. It’s fun,” Rando said.
“What jumped out to me initially is that even though she is that good, we still hung back a lot trying to help her when she didn’t need that extra help. So I actually started to shift people up so that we could be stronger on the offensive side,” Troster said. “You don’t need people back in there right next to her because she is going to do her job. It’s nice to have her there because I can get the other players transitioning more like college teams do — where the goalie takes care of her job and each person does their own thing.”
Troster said Rando’s knowledge of the game helps her out tremendously because Rando can work with the underclassmen who play goalie, allowing coach Troster to focus more of her energy on the offensive unit. That kind of experience is going to be tough to replace next fall, Troster said.
“Having her back there and having her train some of the players who will have to step in to replace her next year, not only does she show them the athleticism and basic skills that are required, but she has a great work ethic, too. And they’ve all just fallen in line with her,” Troster said. “A lot of the upperclassmen on our team have been three- or four-year varsity players, so next year will be an interesting transition, but I’m looking forward to it. We just had a JV tournament and we did fantastic. I’m looking forward to the future, but we’re going to have a big loss at keeper and a couple other positions.”
Rando, who plans to play next fall at Rowan University, said she’s enjoyed her high school career, and certainly will miss it once it’s over.
“It’s nice to be part of such a good group of girls and have fun,” she said. “I think I’ll miss these girls a lot, but I’m going on to play college field hockey and I’ll be joining a whole new group. I’ll miss this, but you have to graduate sooner or later.”
Troster said Rowan will be getting a player who is a model of consistency, which is what any coach wants in their goalie.
“You don’t have to worry about her mentality or attitude from day to day. You always get the same thing from her every day. You know what you’re going to get. That makes it great for her being one of our captains because the younger players know what to expect. It makes my job a little bit easier knowing that she’s taking care of that aspect and I can work on the field players,” Troster said. “She’s going to Rowan next year and a good friend of mine coaches there, so she’s going to get great coaching and she’ll have a great shot to win a lot over the next four years there.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays