The field hockey team is undergoing drastic changes in personnel as it prepares to recover the Atlantic 10 conference title that it relinquished to the University of Massachusetts last year in a 0-3 loss.
Coach Gina Lucido said the bitter end to an otherwise successful 2015 season, in which the Spiders were 7-1 in conference play, inspired critical reflection on what prevented the team from defending the title it earned in 2014.
“I think everyone on our team would agree that we underachieved last year,” Lucido said. “Our attacking penalty/corner unit wasn’t tournament ready and that was really an area that the UMASS game came down to.”
Throughout the summer and during preseason, the Spiders have molded into what they say they believe is a different team entirely, and Coach Lucido contributes much of that change to the 10 freshman players.
“I have 25 people on this team, and half of them are new,” Lucido said. “But we’ve been able to be more prepared at this point than we have in past preseasons. The fact that the freshmen came in fit and tactically ready has allowed us to move at the pace of a much more experienced team.”
Vice-Captain Kasey Gilbride said that the upperclassmen had taken note of the considerable impact that the new class was having on the team.
“We love our freshmen,” Gilbride said. “There’s nothing I respect more than new players who, without hesitating, go out there and get after it just as much as their seniors do. On the field, you can’t tell who is a freshman and who is an upperclassman.”
Although much new talent has been acquired in recent weeks, the team has undergone preseason in the absence of standout sophomore goalkeeper Emily Braunewell. Braunewell, who was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team and started in 11 games for the Spiders last year, will be unavailable to compete this season while she recovers from a knee injury.
“We definitely miss Emily,” Captain Emma Johannsson said. “Her energy brings a light to our entire team, and she is so reliable in the cage.”
For the coming season, junior goalkeeper Amanda Hoyt is expected to be the Spider’s go-to starting keeper. Hoyt shared the starting job last year, playing in 12 games.
“I think Amanda is definitely ready and willing to take on the role,” Lucido said. “She has had a very strong preseason and been really solid, so it’s exciting to see her take on the fullness of that role.”
As the Spiders prepare for their season opener, Gilbride says she is confident that this team has the fortitude to overcome the obstacles that prevented a championship run last season.
“Last year we struggled coming back if we were ever behind. We weren’t as mentally strong as we could have been,” Gilbride said, noting that the cohesion this team shares will allow it to put forth a mentally stronger performance than they have in years past.
American will be the first team to test the Spiders when they play at 2 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 26 in Washington, D.C.
Contact reporter Jessica Stanfill at email@example.com