Published December 18. 2012 4:00AM
Perhaps the enduring image of Stonington High School's Chloe Slater from the 2012 calendar year: Her standing on a tennis court for 3 hours, 23 minutes in the oppressive heat, yet never wilting in the Eastern Connecticut Conference singles championship in late May.
"There's no way to describe those moments and, like, you love it, but it's still so difficult," said Slater, the ECC runner-up after falling in three sets to teammate and top seed Annika Burgess.
"It's so much pressure on yourself (in tennis). There's no one to turn to right or left, behind you or in front of you, to say 'Chloe, you got this.' It's the mental part of the game.'"
It's no surprise then that Slater, standing behind her even-keeled personality and her singular focus, helped create one of the best story lines of the fall season, as well.
Slater, the center midfielder for the Stonington field hockey team, played with a presence, which was one of primary factors in the Bears' run to the Class S state championship game, their first appearance since 1991.
Slater, The Day's 2012 All-Area Field Hockey Player of the Year, finished with four goals and five assists, but her impact was harder to quantify.
Slater was named a first team Class S all-state selection, the team's first since 2008, and was nominated by Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio as the state player of the year, the first time Tucchio has presented one of her players for such consideration.
"You always have an affinity for your own kid, but before I stood up in front of the entire state of Connecticut, you want to make sure," said Tucchio, who scouts other teams in the state religiously and compared Slater with what she was seeing. "I felt totally confident in doing that.
"She didn't win the award, but with Chloe, she's gonna give you a boost everywhere on the field. When we're in the midfield transition and Steph Stearns is flying down the right wing, Chloe blasts the ball 45 yards and puts it in her hands. There's no stat for that. ... If you see her play, there's no question."
Stonington was 15-5 overall with its 21st ECC title in the last 22 seasons. The Bears, the No. 6 seed in the Class S state tournament, toppled three-time defending champion Granby in the quarterfinals and blanked second-seeded Immaculate of Danbury 3-0 in the semifinals to reach the state championship game. There, Stonington fell 2-0 to Haddam-Killingworth.
What Slater most took away from the season was the camaraderie - "it left the biggest impact on me," she said.
"I miss my coach. I miss the players. I miss being someone that the girls could talk to," Slater said, reflecting on the season. "I miss working with the other seniors to make sure we were having a good time on top of working hard."
Stonington girls' tennis coach George Crouse went to watch Slater play field hockey this season, already knowing full well the impact she has on a team. Crouse's team has been to three state finals in Slater's tenure and Slater has never lost a team match, not in the regular season, not even against perennial power Weston in the state tournament.
"In sports you either are going at it with the top of your energy and talent or you're nervous about how it's all going to turn out," Crouse said. "Chloe puts her talent to task and it comes through.
"Win or lose, and she hasn't lost much, you know you're going to get the best a high school athlete can do out of that young lady."
Slater, who has not decided on a college but would like to pursue something in the medical field, is secretary of the National Honor Society, vice president of student government and a member of the varsity club and the jazz band, where she plays the piano.
Slater didn't begin playing field hockey until her sophomore season, but even then Tucchio could sense something special.
"Her athleticism allowed her to pick things up so quickly," Tucchio said. "You tell her something once and she says 'yes, coach.' Sometimes she'll pause for a second to think about it. Then she just does it."