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Coach Puts Girls Hockey on the Map

The Wilton High's girls hockey team defeated Notre Dame-Fairfield on Wednesday to improve to 3-0 in its third year as a varsity team. And that's a reason to celebrate: The win total matches the total number of victories from its first season in 2008-09.

Already this winter, the Warriors, led by coach Kerry Leonard, have defeated Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference rivals Darien and Greenwich, two teams they had never before beaten. They have outscored opponents 16-5 and are two wins away from matching last year's total. "I would say,'' Leonard said, "that this has come faster than we thought. We played New Canaan to a 1-1 tie in a scrimmage and if you had told me that two years ago, I would've said you're crazy."

Leonard, 25, is the woman behind Wilton's rapid rise. A graduate of Westhill High in Stamford, she played for the Spinnakers – a group of mostly Stamford girls – in high school before going on to an outstanding career at Hamilton College. Leonard, who lives in Stamford, teaches math at Brien McMahon High School and assists Mo Minicus on the Darien field hockey team. (Darien's field hockey team finished the season undefeated. Kerry hasn't lost a game this school year!)

Wilton's ascent is a matter of experience: The players on this year's squad saw significant time in the past two years. And the players joining the team have experience. The result, is, well, 3-0.

"We're well-rounded,'' Kerry says. "We have girls that can step up when we need them to; we are good in every area. We have good goal-tending, we have good offense and good defense. We didn't necessarily have that the last two years. Now we have two lines of girls that have been playing hockey for a while."

Sammi Blicht, who made the All-FCIAC first team, is one of the team's veterans. Lara Schnitzler and Christie Huidekoper were second team selections. Huidekoper, whose brother Henry was a standout on the boys team, scored the team's first goal two years ago.

Witon travels to Ridgefield to practice and for home games. With ice time hard to find – Wilton practices two afternoons a week and one morning at 6 – the Warriors have made it work.

They have the right person with Leonard, who followed older brothers Tim and Craig to the rink since she was 5. She also attended her brothers' practices at Westhill, where she watched coach Rich Bulan run the team. Bulan is now the girls coach at New Canaan. "I don't look forward to that game,'' Leonard says.

She has coached in the Mid-Fairfield youth hockey program, was an assistant at Colby and worked at camps. She can see coaching for a long time.

"I like coaching hockey and field hockey,'' Leonard said. "It's a lot like teaching. The best is watching the girls develop and seeing them reach something they thought was unattainable. That's the best reward of all."

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