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  • Matt Ondesko

The right decision

By Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union

Every athlete has a goal in life - this is why they play the sport that they do. They want to play at the highest level possible - and excel at that level. For some athletes that are multiple sport athletes, that have options on what they want to pursue in college. They may be good at a couple of different sports and have to choose which one they pursue.

As time goes on the one sport that thought they would do and they sport they do choose to play at the next level could change. That’s exactly what happen to Williamsville East High School’s Jenna Cavalieri.

Cavalieri was so good in both field hockey and hockey that she had a lot of different options when it came to what she wanted to do in college. For the longest time, Cavalieri wanted to pursue hockey as her sport of choice. Colleges and universities were lining up for services. School’s like Harvard and Cornell wanted the Williamsville product to come play for them this fall. At the end of the day, however, Cavalieri took a different road - a different path. Instead of playing hockey in college, Cavalieri’s love became field hockey. When Mercyhurst offered her a chance to play at the next level, Cavalieri jumped at it. “When I was a freshman in high school my goal was to play ice hockey in college. I had come off of a really good season when Cornell and Harvard approached me. However, being in the position I was in, I knew that I wasn’t quite ready to make such a big decision for my future,” stated Cavalieri. ”Little did I know that my window to commit to an Ivy League division I school would close sooner than I was ready to make a huge commitment. Ultimately, I chose to play field hockey because after four years of ice hockey recruiting and not finding the right fit for me, I had a successful senior year of field hockey, an opportunity to visit Mercyhurst, and the feeling I’ve been waiting for since freshman year.”

Her love for the sport of hockey has never been higher, but the recruiting process was a grind - and something that she couldn’t take anymore. Through all the visits spent with college coaches - and touring different schools, Cavalieri never got s sense belonging. That’s until she visited Mercyhurst for field hockey. There Cavalieri felt at home right away - and the feeling was mutual. “I started playing hockey when I was seven, following in the footsteps of many of my family members. Girls ice hockey became a passion of mine mainly because of all of the friendships I had gained along the way,” stated Cavalieri. “Over the years I became more and more competitive which reversely affected my confidence. I knew that I played a great role on my team, but I could shake the feeling that I had already missed my opportunity to move on to the next level. I became numb to the recruitment process. It wasn’t until my senior year of Varsity field hockey that my confidence and passion for a sport came back to me. Because of Coach Rajczak and Coach Stacey, my final decision to pursue field hockey was easy.” Cavalieri’s exploits on the ice were just the tip of the ice berg. If you saw her play field hockey you would see a young women dedicated to the sport. She helped East to their first title last fall - and was one of the main reasons. Last fall was probably one of the most balanced teams the Flames had put on the field as they were solid from goaltending to defense to the offensive side of the field. The upperclassmen were ready to bring home a title - and that’s exactly what they did. “Going into the season I was very confident with the amount of talent returning to the team. I believe that along with talent, you need a team that has a lot of chemistry with each other and trust that no matter the result, you win as a family and lose as a family. With that being said, no matter the team, I feel that this type of environment is where I thrive,” stated Cavalieri. “With our talented goalie, our unstoppable offense and unbeatable defense, it made it easy for me to play my best and help lead my team to a sectional title. Throughout the years I have learned so much from my teammates and coaches, both on the ice and on the field. I learned that as a player, I need to believe in myself, trust my teammates, and have fun while playing the game.” Of course Cavalieri was a big reason for the team’s success. She holds the record for the most goals in a season with 20 - and that is no easy feat considering all the attention she garners each and every game.

Going into games Cavalieri knows other teams are game planning for her. She knows it won’t be easy to get open - and her get goals. She remembers a time at Iroquois when parents where taking about her teammate Laura Kaplan, and herself, and how they needed to stop them. “The funny thing about that is one time, my teammate, Tessa Fabiniak and I, were at one of Iroquois home games and overheard the parents behind us talking about my teammate, Laura Kaplan and me,” stated Cavalieri. “Knowing that they were game planning against us, Coach Rajczak warned us that we might get frustrated, but to play our game by drawing them out, creating more opportunities for teammates that are in scoring position. This led to our first win against Iroquois in over a decade. When it came to the section final, I seized my opportunity to capitalize on their mistakes. This resulted in winning the section final.” All that Cavalieri has done in high school doesn’t mean anything when she gets to college. This is why she makes sure she continues to work on her game as much as possible. While the season was just recently cancelled do to the pandemic, Cavalieri still knows she wants to be able to contribute when she finally gets to be able to play again. She just doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines during her first season and be a by standard. Cavalieri wants to contribute and be a key contributor to the success of the program whenever the season starts - and whenever they can get back to having fun on the field. “Because of the circumstances with my senior year being cut short, I wasn’t able to play my last sport season with Will East lacrosse. I chose to play lacrosse, for the first time, to help me condition for college field hockey in the fall,” stated Cavalieri. “Now, however, I have been in communication with my college coach and trainer with performing regular routine workouts, four times a week. I also plan to use the athletic fields to sharpen my stick skills with my local teammates as the season nears.” When Cavalieri does finally get on campus this fall, the Mercyhurst coaches will see a young woman who is determined to do whatever it takes to the best there is on and off the field. They also will see a young woman who will bring those leadership skills to the forefront.

Cavalieri was a leader in whatever she has done. Whether it is hockey, field hockey or travel softball, teammates looked up to Cavalieri. Cavalieri knows what it takes to be a leader on and off the field. At an early age she was named an assistant captain on her hockey team - and it kind of went from there. When she was named as an assistant captain during her junior year, Cavalieri already felt comfortable. She knew what it would take to make a difference on and off the field, and she knew how to get work point across to the girls. “Growing up playing travel softball and ice hockey, allowed me to play many roles on the team. I became an assistant captain on the ice hockey team at an early age, which taught me what responsibilities it takes to be a captain and a leader,” stated Cavalieri. “At times it has been hard to earn respect, but I learned over the years that to get respect, you have to give respect. By the time I earned captainship on both the varsity field hockey and ice hockey teams, I was mature enough to understand that in order to be successful, I had to be positive, encouraging, and lead by example.”


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