By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Egg Harbor Township field hockey coach Kristi Troster said she wishes she could have Emily Gargan, a 2022 graduate, for about four or five more years. The 6-foot tall defender was just scratching the surface of her ability in the sport during her four-year Eagles career, and could have been even better with more training.
But Gargan played field hockey for fun — something to do in the lacrosse offseason to keep her in shape and stay busy. That’s how good of an athlete Gargan is. Even in a secondary sport she was one of the best on the team, and a top defender in the Cape-Atlantic League.
She was even better in lacrosse, scoring 54 goals and adding 11 assists to help lead EHT into the Cape-Atlantic League and NJSIAA playoffs. She credits her mom, Kristy, and dad, Andrew, with helping her develop her lacrosse skills from a very young age, and all that work has paid off as she plans to continue her lacrosse career at the NCAA Division I level by attending Central Michigan this fall.
“I started off with lacrosse at a very young age, basically from the time I could walk I had a lacrosse stick in my hands. My mom and dad helped start up the E.H.T.Y.O. program to help develop lacrosse (in the township) so I was always around the game. My dad played in college, and my older brother always played, so I was exposed to it early on,” she said. “I just kept progressing with lacrosse throughout the years. My mom was a really big help with getting me to where I am today. She really pushed me because she saw the potential in me to be a good athlete with lacrosse.
“I’ve put in a lot of work. I knew I wanted to go to a higher level, so I trained really hard ever since my freshman year,” Gargan continued. “I took it as a big deal. I trained really hard in the winter with my friend Addison (Jacobs) and just kept going, and eventually it led to an offer from Central Michigan. I’m still training hard to be a lacrosse player on the collegiate level and keep making mom and dad proud.”
“Her career in field hockey was a little more textbook. In lacrosse, she came in as a varsity starter right away. As a freshman (in field hockey), she was still growing. She was lanky, but very athletic. As a freshman she really improved, then the following year she ended up replacing one of our pieces in the defensive backfield (on varsity) and stayed there ever since. She’s one of those kids who, every year that she played, she got better. She grew, got better with her stick skills and finesse — I would have loved to see her play longer than this. She’s talented enough to play field hockey in college and I think she still had so much potential in that sport,” Troster said. “She’s a hard worker. She was a leader in our summer workouts and a great role model for all of our field hockey kids. She wasn’t always the most vocal, but if you needed a ‘leads-by-example’ kid, it was always her in a heartbeat.”
Gargan certainly set the example in the classroom as well, as she graduated among the top two percent of Egg Harbor Township’s Class of 2022, and she plans to major in neuroscience at Central Michigan with a concentration in dentistry.
Gargan said she got the most out of her high school career in both sports, and that was due in large part to the leaders she looked up to when she was a young player.
“All of my years in high school I was grateful for the teams I was on. The girls were awesome and the coaches on both staffs were amazing people. They included everyone and made everyone feel comfortable. From freshman year I was pushed so hard as an athlete and that really helped me get to where I am today. And my mom training with me on the days I didn’t have practice — all that really helped me get to where I am now,” Gargan said. “Freshman year, having all those seniors to look up to, that really helped me when it was my senior year, just having to fill in that role. Maturing throughout high school and seeing how the seniors act — and modeling that behavior — especially being on field hockey and lacrosse, I had two sets of seniors I could look up to and those are girls I really love and were my big sisters. I still reach out to them today. Seeing how comforting they were to me when I was a freshman really helped me want to help any freshman when I was a senior and make sure they had a really good experience. At the end of the day, it’s about your teammates and making it a good environment. It’s so much better when you have a good dynamic together.”
Gargan’s career was not without its challenges, however. As a sophomore, she suffered a torn MCL, and also lost that season due to the Covid-19 outbreak. She scored 60 goals as a freshman, returned as a junior to score 27 more, and capped her career with 54 tallies this spring to finish with 141 goals and 17 assists.
“Coming in as a freshman, I was very nervous because it was a new school, everything’s changing, I didn’t know how the team was and there were so many older girls. And hearing about our head coach my freshman year, Melissa Williams, it freaked me out a little bit because she seemed so strict with everything. But I took it strictly because I wanted to be able to play on varsity. Everything she said I took to heart and I tried to soak up the experience. I think lacrosse being so tough freshman year prompted me to train even harder. It made me understand what times I needed on runs and what level I was supposed to be at each year,” Gargan said. “Freshman year was my best year of lacrosse. I got MVP at the end of the season, and everything felt like a dream because I was accomplishing everything I wanted to. I wanted to make a name for myself. Sophomore year I tore my MCL, but looking back I think that was a good thing because it taught me how to get through something that was very difficult. It taught me how much I loved lacrosse. I wanted to work so much harder. While I was laying in bed I just wanted to be out there playing. That really lit a fire under me.”
Troster said what struck her about Gargan was that everything seemed to come easily to her. She moved with grace and fluidity on the field, and also had instincts that belied her lack of experience in the sport, which she only started playing in middle school.
“She’s very natural and has great instincts. She knows the spaces she needs to be in. She almost sometimes comes out of nowhere. Nothing she does looks like it’s a struggle or difficult for her. In that sweeper position you’re kind of a rover and the last line of defense in front of the goalie, so to have the level of poise she had — she knew when she needed to step up, when she needed to hold her ground, and those are very difficult things to learn, especially not having played the sport that long. Those can be difficult decisions to make, but she made them well all the time,” Troster said. “A lot of times good defenders get overlooked, especially in field hockey. Even in soccer, you hear all about the goal scorers and they never mention the person who steps up out of the defensive backfield and carries the ball 50 yards down the field and passes to the person who scores. I think it happens a lot for defenders. But her range and reach — that was really hard to combat as an attacking player. She has a wingspan that is about a foot longer than most. She covers a lot of ground.”
Gargan was pretty matter-of-fact when it came to her emotions about her high school career coming to an end. Time waits for no one, and she said she’s ready to move on to the next phase of her life at Central Michigan.
“Senior year was a fun year. I was finishing off my high school career and I wanted to finish on a happy note. I pushed myself really hard, but at the end of the day it was my final season and I just wanted to cherish those moments with my friends and teammates before going off to college,” she said. “It’s surreal to think it’s over now. Graduation was crazy; it’s something you can’t really prepare for, it just happens. I’m excited for the next chapter in my life though. I’ll still have all my friends and coaches in EHT who I know will have my back even though I’ll be in Michigan. I’ll be far away, but I’ll always have that support. High school did go by pretty quickly. Going through covid and having a lot of it online seemed to speed up the process, but I feel like my high school career was something I’ll never forget.
“I’m definitely excited. I can’t wait to meet my new teammates and play at the next level, and just better myself,” Gargan added. “It’s going to be hard being so far away, but I know I can do it because of all the support from my parents and friends. You take the good with the bad. Even though I’ll be far away, I’m so grateful that I can play at the Division I level.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays