It’s a rare occurrence when two students from a small school like Pierson sign letters of intent to play Division I athletics in college on the same day. But then again, student athletes like Paige Schaefer and Charlotte Johnson don’t come along often.
The two senior field hockey stars were joined at Pierson High School on November 14 by parents, friends and coaches as they signed their letters of intent. Johnson, one of the top goalies on Long Island, will attend Duke University in North Carolina next year and play for one of the top-ranked programs in the country, while Schaefer, an All-State midfielder, will attend Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
It’s no surprise that both Johnson and Schaefer will attend outstanding academic institutions as well, considering they are ranked near the top of their class with grade-point averages in the high 90s, even as they pursue diplomas in the challenging International Baccalaureate program at Pierson. Despite all their success, however, Shaefer and Johnson more often than not praise coaches and teachers who helped them achieve their goals along the way.
“I cannot credit my coaches enough for all that they’ve done for me,” said Johnson, mentioning Kaitlyn Daniels, a former Pierson goalie herself who coached both girls in middle school, as well as Kim Hannigan, the current varsity coach, and Shannon Judge, who left the program following the 2014 season. “I turned to Kim Hannigan after my first great varsity season with Shannon Judge to heighten the competition, play year round and be a part of a team with equally passionate girls.”
Johnson and Schaefer both play for Hannigan’s travel team, East End Field Hockey, and have dedicated themselves to the sport full time, though Schaefer played softball and basketball during her high school years as well.
“I started to realize field hockey was my sport when I scored the winning goal of the Long Island Championship game during my freshman year,” Schaefer said. “I first picked up a field hockey stick when I was in fourth grade and did clinics at SYS with Kim Hannigan.”
Pierson field hockey has always churned out great players, most recently Kasey Gilbride, who last year graduated from the University of Richmond, where she played all four years, and Ana Sherwood, who currently attends Villanova. The search for the right college for student athletes who play field hockey does not happen overnight. Schaefer and Johnson both started their college searches as freshman, about the same time their field hockey careers began to take serious shape.
“College was always in the back of my mind, because my sister Evan was a senior in high school at that time,” Johnson said. “So I thought if I worked really hard in field hockey, I might be able to secure a roster spot on a great team at an even better school. I had always told myself to put school first before considering a field hockey team. If I could get both, then that would be everything I wished for, and more.”
Johnson first visited Duke as a seventh-grader when her older sister was touring colleges across America. She traveled there twice last year for clinics and a four-day intensive stay. The atmosphere was immediately compelling for her, even though her roster spot was not secured until late in the process.
“I was the last recruit committed out of the graduating high school class of 2019,” she said, noting that Duke is ranked among the top teams in the country this season. “I cannot wait for the fast, precise and insane skill the ACC will bring. Even with the great training I’ve had, I know this is just the beginning of a very long, challenging and rewarding future. I’m really ready to work hard for it. I consider myself competitive and my future plans seem to match that pretty adequately.”
Schaefer also visited her future school for a field hockey clinic during her junior year, and again this past summer prior to her senior year. Lehigh competes in the Patriot League against other schools from the Northeast.
“I enjoyed spending time with the team the most. They all seemed like they were best friends and loved playing field hockey together,” Shaefer said. “I spent some time with the coaches both during the clinics and the overnight. I was impressed with how driven all of the coaching staff was and their love for the game of field hockey.”
Schaefer and Johnson understand the opportunities they will have academically at the universities they have chosen. Schaefer hopes to study engineering, while Johnson is unsure, but said her interests will likely direct her toward some combination of government, law, psychology and biology. They both expect the foundation they learned at Pierson to propel them into the future.
“The best part about Pierson’s academics are the relationships I have created with my teachers that I know will last forever,” Schaefer said.
“A huge shout out to my teachers and the lovely administration at Pierson because my high school experience would not be anywhere near as good or crazy as it is now,” Johnson added.