DURHAM, N.H. -- When you've got something to prove, there's nothing greater than a challenge. In 2006, the University of New Hampshire field hockey team will challenge its America East foes to prove that the Wildcats belong in the 2006 America East Championship tournament.
"Although we are still on the younger side, the sentiment in the program is that we are ready to set high standards for ourselves within the conference," 16th-year head coach Robin Balducci said. "As always, our goals will begin with success in our conference tournament."
UNH's defense has risen to meet the challenges it has faced in recent years and is poised to once again be successful in that task this season, whereas the Wildcats' attack has something to prove in '06.
The defensive unit is anchored by junior goalkeeper Margaux Shute, who last year became the first UNH goalie to play every second of an entire season since 2000. After redshirting in 2003 and seeing minimal playing time in '04, Shute was strong in goal for the 'Cats a year ago. She shut out three opponents and recorded double digits in saves four times, including a personal-best 19 against Indiana University.
"Through discipline and hard work, Margaux continues to make herself and those around her better," Balducci said.
Holly Schurk rejoined the UNH field hockey program last spring. The former high school All-America selection did not see any action as a freshman in 2003, then redshirted the 2004 season. All of Schurk's collegiate experience has been during the spring seasons.
Freshman goalie Kendra Teixeira compiled an impressive high school resume that included a 0.61 GAA, .908 save percentage and 15 shutouts in her senior season.
An experienced defensive unit is led by one of its numerous underclassmen, sophomore Brittany Jacobs. She earned America East All-Conference Second Team and All-Rookie Team accolades in 2005 as she developed into the team's top defensive player. Jacobs also led last year's UNH rookie class in both goals (four) and points (nine).
Senior Anita Anastasi stepped into a starting role as a sophomore in 2004. She became one of the team's strongest defenders that year and continued to be an imposing presence in '05.
"One of the most important qualities a team needs is leadership and Anita continues to be a great leader on and off the field," assistant coach Felicia Cappabianca said.
Sam Geary brings two years of starting experience to the squad. After a redshirt season in 2003, Geary became a starter as a freshman in '04 and last year as a sophomore she led the team in defensive saves.
"Sam Geary is coming off a very successful spring season in which she played a major role in our defense," Balducci said. "She has improved her game tremendously and I believe she will be a huge reason for our success this year."
Sophomore Stefanie Simeone will compete for a starting spot in the defensive unit. She spent the summer training hard in the gym and on the turf and will be ready to challenge for significant playing time.
Sophomore Nicole Lee gained experience a year ago after taking a redshirt season in '04. She brings a wealth of international experience to the team and has improved her game greatly over the past two years. She will also look to compete for a spot in the lineup.
Incoming freshman Cally Cooke will impact the team immediately upon her arrival. She is fast and athletic and is a talented defender. Michelle Montalbano is another defender that will challenge for a spot in the starting lineup. She has great size and skill and has what it takes to win. Liza Timbas joins UNH from the same high school as sophomore Sarah Craigue, and she is a solid defender with great knowledge of the game. Kiera Williams will join the Wildcats this fall after transferring from the University of Connecticut. She is a knowledgeable defender who gained excellent experience over the summer playing for the EPTC New England team.
Youth is the core of this corps. Kara Napolitano and Michelle Tavener both garnered America East All-Rookie Team honors last year. Tavener tallied seven points with three goals and an assist.
"Michelle is a competitor," Balducci said. "She is dangerous and will be a major threat against opposing teams in '06."
Napolitano will be dangerous on the attack as well as defense.
"Kara has an unmatched work ethic," Cappabianca said. "She has the ability to play both sides of the ball and will not only be an integral part of our defensive unit, but can set up great scoring opportunities as well."
Brooke Bercari and Hannah Colestock saw significant playing time in the midfield rotation last year as rookies. Both have the potential to be great players and have the opportunity to start this fall. Sophie Ostroski redshirted the 2005 season and will also compete to be a part of this year's starting midfield. She continuously strives to improve through hard work in the weight room as well as her individual skills.
"We have experience and maturity in our goalkeeper position and our backfield has been solid in recent years, so we really are looking to enhance our scoring prowess," Balducci stated.
There may be no greater challenge for the 2006 Wildcats. With the graduation of leading scorers Katie White and Kaitlyn Skelley, sophomore Sarah Craigue is the only returning starter to the forward line. Craigue, one of seven student-athletes from New Hampshire on the University's 25-player roster, has great speed with the ball and the ability to be a major impact in the fall.
Senior Emily Colton will find playing time as a forward and in the midfield for the Wildcats in '06. She has quick stick skills and a strong shot, and is the top returning scorer from last year's squad. Colton was a starter as a sophomore and provided a spark off the bench in 2005.
Junior Shauna Sellenger is an extremely versatile player who plays on the forward line with great intensity and provides a scoring punch. She matched Colton's 2005 point production and is the top returning Wildcat goal scorer from a year ago, when she proved particularly dangerous on penalty corners.
Jen Mooney, another junior, is coming off a great 2005 spring season in which she spent a lot of time working on her individual skill. She is fast and very dangerous in open space. Mackenzie Granger, who redshirted in 2005, continues to improve her game and will compete for playing time this fall as a freshman.
Incoming freshmen Megan Shea and Leah Boody will immediately compete for playing time. Boody is a fast player who has a great touch on the ball and can score goals.
"Megan is one of the best athletes I have ever recruited," Cappabianca said. "She is incredibly fast, explosive and strong. She has great energy and we will look for her to raise the intensity of the players around her."
Gabby Cafone will look to compete for a spot in the starting lineup as a forward or midfielder. She comes from a great field hockey program and led the team in assists with 49.
"Gabby has the potential to be a great player," Balducci said. "She has good vision and deceptive speed with the ball. We expect her to make a major contribution from day one."
UNH's 2006 schedule includes five teams that were ranked in last year's final NFHCA Poll - Indiana (No. 9), Boston College (13), Northeastern (16), Boston University (17) and California (20) - four of which competed in the NCAA Championship.
The season begins under the lights on the home turf of Memorial Field against regional rival Northeastern University on August 26. When the calendar changes to September, the Wildcats change coasts with a trip out west to the University of Pacific and the University of California.
Following a weekend at the University of Vermont for games against Davidson and Miami (Ohio), UNH once again plays under the lights of Memorial Field on Sept. 15 against Harvard, then plays host to Sacred Heart on the 17th.
The 'Cats return to the road to battle Holy Cross and Indiana, then close the month with the start of a three-game homestand in their America East conference opener against Boston University on Sept. 30.
October opens at home against intrastate rival Dartmouth College and conference play resumes vs. Albany. Following a trip to Orono, Maine to play interstate rival U. of Maine, UNH closes its home slate with games against Providence College (Oct. 15) and Vermont for Senior Day on Oct. 21.
New Hampshire closes the regular season with three road games - non-conference regional rivals Boston College and UMass, followed by UMBC.
"We have an exciting schedule that will give us a great opportunity to produce a successful outcome for the Wildcats in 2006."
UNH field hockey. Something to prove. Team. Together. Blue.