A year ago, the odds were against the University of Richmond field hockey team. Challenges were evident for the 2011 season, including a pre-season practice schedule drastically altered because of renovations at the Spiders' Crenshaw field and a schedule with six former NCAA tournament teams.
That did not keep the Spiders from an A-10 title and NCAA tournament berth.
This year, adversity of a different form exists for the defending champs. The 2011 championship team graduated five seniors, including two A-10 team performers: attacker Katelin Peterson and defender Emily Straniero.
"Their reputations will without a doubt be hard to live up to," freshman midfielder Kerri McDonald said.
Straniero was part of a defense that allowed the least amount of goals in the A-10 throughout the regular season and didn't concede a goal throughout the entire A-10 tournament.
Peterson notched 30 points in 2012 and left the Spiders fourth in career points and goals.
"Obviously, it's sad that we lost them," senior captain Catherine Ostoich said. "But we already have players stepping up to fill their shoes. We're trying to be more of a team this year, as opposed to relying on just one player."
Four games into the season, the Spiders are 3-1, and seven players have scored goals. Ten players have registered a point.
The team's only loss thus far was to the number eight ranked University of Virginia, 6-1.
"Virginia is a great example of a misleading result," head coach Gina Lucido said. "While the score reflected a poor performance, there was significant maturity and execution within our tactical play against a top eight program."
The team followed up the UVa. loss with a victorious weekend at home, beating Columbia, 4-3, in overtime on Friday and Georgetown, 8-1, on Sunday.
The Spiders will also be playing the rest of this season as the conference odds-on favorite. In an A-10 pre-season poll, the league's eight head coaches picked Richmond to finish first.
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"I believe so much in a culture of humility and hard work that our program never focuses on where we have been," head coach Gina Lucido said. "But [we focus] on where we are headed and what it will take each day to prepare ourselves to become our best."
Ostoich said "Nothing has changed in our thinking from last year; it's the same game-plan. We want to win more games than we did last year and be a better team."
To fill the void of the graduated seniors, the Spiders brought in a class of eight freshmen, three of whom have already registered a point on the season.
McDonald has already started three of the Spiders' first four games. She has scored twice.
McDonald said, "I believe that the energy that all the freshmen and sophomores bring to this year's team and our commitment and hard work will play an important role in filling [the graduated class's] shoes."
Fellow freshmen Amy Cooke and Taylor Deitrick have also registered points for the Spiders through four games. Cooke, a defender, has one goal and two assists, and Deitrick, a midfielder, has two goals.
"The upperclassmen have been phenomenal leaders both on and off the field," McDonald said. "Their leadership has created a unique team unity."
The Spiders are captained this year by Ostoich and fellow senior defender Liesl Schnuck. The defense is also solidified by the return of junior All-American goalie Anna Zarkoski.
"[The defense] has been good so far," Ostoich said. "Instead of just relying on Emily [Straniero] to make a big tackle, we all are doing it together."
The team will take the field again Sunday at Princeton University to play the Tigers. Conference play will not begin until Oct. 6, when the Spiders will face the University of Massachusetts at Robins Stadium. If the Spiders were to make the A-10 tournament, it would start the first weekend of November.
"We're taking it game by game," Ostoich said. "We're not focusing on where we want to end up just yet."
Contact staff writer Scott Himelein at firstname.lastname@example.org
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