All-Metro field hockey player of the year: Villa Duchesne's Tkachuk steps up production for historic season

All-Metro field hockey player of the year: Villa Duchesne's Tkachuk steps up production for historic season

From the 2019 All-Metro field hockey series
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Using a foam ball and padded hockey stick, a sixth grader named Taryn Tkachuk played in a student versus teacher game of “pillow hockey” in a gymnasium at Villa Duchesne.

Villa Duchesne field hockey coach Kate Graft was on the team of teachers.

“I was playing against her and I thought, ‘We have to get this girl playing field hockey,’ ” Graft said.

The rest is not only history. It has been historic.

Since arriving on the campus of Villa Duchesne as a freshman, Tkachuk has led the area in scoring each of her first three seasons, and this fall, she put up offensive numbers never before seen in the St. Louis area.

There are several words to describe the way Tkachuk plays field hockey. Pillow-like is not one of them.

Using a combination of speed, skill, strength and relentlessness, the junior forward scored 43 goals and dished out 29 assists, both tops in the area. Her 115 points placed her 51 ahead of the next highest player in the area.

In the last 20 years, no area field hockey player had a more productive season. Her 43 goals was better than the mark of 40 set by Annie Genovese of St. Joseph’s in 2016. Her 115-point season eclipsed the 112 put up by Kate Barber of Lafayette in 2012.

“I just felt that this year I had to step up,” Tkachuk said. “I just wanted to be a leader for everyone and to motivate them to be at their best.”

Her production against top competition, ability to inspire teammates and emergence as a team leader has earned Tkachuk the distinction of Post-Dispatch All-Metro field hockey player of the year for the second year in a row.

Tkachuk scored 31 goals in her first 10 regular-season games, including five against Nerinx Hall, four against John Burroughs and three against MICDS — all teams that later joined Villa Duchesne in the Midwest Tournament semifinal round.

“Every year with those teams it’s stiff competition. I really try to elevate my game against them,” Tkachuk said.

While Tkachuk was entering uncharted waters statistically, she was also grooming freshman forward Gigi Edwards as the Saints’ next prolific scorer.

Edwards, a first team All-Metro selection, scored 13 of her 19 goals in the Saints final 10 games. Tkachuk became a joyful distributor during that span, racking up 18 assists, many of them to her freshman understudy.

“It’s a cool experience to play with someone I looked up to for years,” Edwards said. “At first I was not that confident with my skill, but Taryn would give me advice and feedback throughout the games and it really helped.”

Villa Duchesne was riding a 10-game winning streak when a young St. Joseph’s team derailed the Saints, shocking them 2-1 in early October. It was the first Villa Duchesne loss to an area team in more than two seasons.

In a get-together at Tkachuk’s house, the junior captain led her teammates in a candid conversation after that game.

“We were getting cocky and we realized we can’t act like that anymore. We played as individuals that game and we never play like that,” Tkachuk said. “That (loss) was devastating, but we talked and realized that it was perfect for us.”

Villa won its next five games against local teams by a combined 27-0 score, including a 5-0 victory over John Burroughs in a Midwest Tournament semifinal. But unlike the previous two seasons, the Saints could not bring home the championship trophy, losing to a determined MICDS team 1-0 in the title game.

“We may have lost, but I feel like this year we really grew as a team,” Tkachuk said. “We wanted to get better throughout the year, and I feel like we accomplished that.”

In November, Tkachuk verbally committed to play college field hockey for the University of Virginia. The Cavaliers reached a national semifinal this fall but have never played in the national championship game. Tkachuk hopes to help them get there.

“I really liked their team culture and I thought I’d fit in well,” Tkachuk said. “The atmosphere, the academics, the sports — I just fell in love when I visited.”

Tkachuk is the latest of an increasing number of St. Louis high school field hockey players catching the eye of top Division I programs around the country.

She hopes one day to represent the United States in the Olympics.

“People shouldn’t look past us because we’re from Missouri. We may not be a big field hockey place but we bring a lot to the plate,” Tkachuk said.

And teammates and opponents alike have come to know what Tkachuk brings to the plate — toughness, emotion and a burning desire to win. It is a playing style that Edwards thinks is misinterpreted by those who do not know her.

“I think people think that she’s scary, but when you get to know her, she’s just a softy,” Edwards said.

Perhaps she is a little pillow-like after all.

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