Being elected a captain by her field hockey teammates may have been the best thing for Brooke Point junior Abbey Cunningham's game. Cunningham led the Black-Hawks with seven goals last season, but Coach Kitty Hughes often thought her top forward could assert herself more.

For a variety of reasons, the captaincy being one of them, Cunningham's confidence is up this season, and Hughes is thrilled with the results. Cunningham scored eight goals in the team's preseason scrimmages and three in Thursday's regular season opener, a 7-0 win over Liberty.

"Granted, they are scrimmages, but to score more goals than she did all of last season--it shows that there is a change with Abbey Cunningham," Hughes said.

Before, Cunningham had been reserved and somewhat timid while playing sports. During basketball season, she often struggled to find her shooting touch, but when she did, the results were remarkable. She scored 26 points in a game against Stafford, including the game-winning basket, after being held scoreless against Chancellor. She said the same inconsistency bothered her during field hockey season.

"Last year I was kind of worried that if I messed up, then the ball would go all the way down to the other end," Cunningham said. "This year Ms. Hughes has really stressed communication, so now I always know I have somebody backing me up. I always know where my teammates are."

She also realized her teammates believed in her abilities when they voted her one of the team captains.

"I was surprised, but I was honored, and it gave me a really big confidence boost," Cunningham said. The responsibility of being a captain has helped her overcome her harsh self-criticism.

"Against Liberty [Thursday] I wasn't playing well at all, and I started to get down on myself," Cunningham said. "Ms. Hughes pulled me out of the game to let me get myself together, and I realized the team needs me even when I'm not playing well. I just have to play through it."

The coaching move worked, as Cunningham scored all of her goals after reentering the game.

"I think maybe it was accepting that role as an upperclassman and a captain that did it," Hughes said. "But she is really coming into her own."

CAPTION: Brooke Point's Abbey Cunningham, left, battles Liberty's Kenda DeLeon for the ball during Thursday's season opener.