As the sun beats down on the turf field on a late September afternoon, the University of Richmond field hockey team hustles to follow head coach Gina Lucido's instructions. The players reposition goals and cones to transition from a drill exercise to a four-versus-three scrimmage, moving quietly and with purpose. Without hesitation, they begin sprinting again and weaving between one another seamlessly as they advance toward the goal, looking every bit like a team prepared to defend its Atlantic 10 Conference championship title.
But something about Richmond field hockey looks different this year from the team that bagged the seventh division championship in 10 years and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. The team is younger; five freshmen replaced the six starting players that graduated last year.
The coaching staff has also added more members. Lucido is accompanied once again by assistant coach Ryan Elliot, who worked with the team as a volunteer coach last season and is now coaching in a full-time capacity. The team has also taken on a second assistant coach: Kristen O'Rourke, a 2010 James Madison University graduate and former Duke Dog field hockey player, will provide special training to the keepers.
The team is still adjusting to its new roster: 7-1 defeat to Princeton University on Sept. 10 exposed many of the team's weaknesses, Lucido said. Richmond is now 3-5 in non-conference play, which is the team's opportunity to play more competitive teams, such as the No. 5-ranked Princeton, before the Atlantic 10 Conference play begins, Lucido said.
"I tell the team to take the [non-conference] experience and use it," Lucido said. "Playing more competitive teams will only make the girls mentally tougher. We have to be committed to the process, not just the result."
Richmond will play four more non-conference games before the Atlantic 10 season begins. The coach said great team culture would be essential to further improvement.
Junior Katelin Peterson, a team captain, said being a leader to the team had been easy since the players were all close friends and experienced players.
"Everybody has a teammate next to her who wants the same thing," she said. "You're playing for your teammate beside you and yourself, as well as the players on the sidelines because you know how hard they work in practice."
Freshman Anna Zarkoski said she had witnessed the team's chemistry when she visited Richmond, which became the main reason that she chose to play at Richmond instead of Pennsylvania State University. Christine Amorose, another freshman player, agreed that the older teammates had made an exceptional effort to help the new players get acclimated.
"They all make sure we have rides places, even when it's just hauling all our bags and gear to the Robins Center," Amorose said. "Coach has had check-up meetings with all the freshman to make sure we were all doing OK and K.O. [O'Rourke] will go to our study halls to make sure we're all in line."
Amorose, who plays forward, said that field hockey at the collegiate level had been faster and more aggressive than in high school, but that she and the other freshmen were adjusting to the higher level of play with the help of the rest of the team. Forward Jessica Hollis, midfielder Chelsea Davies and midfielder Erin O'Brien accompany Amorose and Zarkoski on the Spiders' freshmen roster.
Zarkoski has been splitting time as keeper with sophomore Ann Jefferis. Although they are competing for the same position, both girls are always supportive of one another, Zarkoski said.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
"It's always the two of us practicing together so we're kind of each other's best friend and enemy," she said. "It's always been positive competitiveness, though. And I think it actually does really work to our advantage."
O'Rourke is also advantageous to both keepers, Zarkoski said.
"She's so passionate about the sport. She just brings a lot to the team ... she was a goalie at JMU and just graduated last year, so she's really easy to relate to."
Conference play will begin Oct. 8 at Lock Haven University. This will be the first time Richmond and Lock Haven will compete in field hockey, as Lock Haven just advanced to Division I this season.
Contact staff writer Kristy Burkhardt at email@example.com
Support independent student media
You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.Donate Now