DURHAM, N.H. – In 2007, the University of New Hampshire field hockey team returned to America East postseason play after a two-year absence. In 2008, the Wildcats advanced to the America East championship game, where they fell by the slimmest of margins: one goal. UNH – with 11 returning letterwinners, including seven starters, and six newcomers under the guidance of 19th-year head coach Robin Balducci – looks to continue its recent upward swing in 2009.
The Wildcats, picked No. 1 in the America East Preseason Poll that was released last week, have already taken steps in that direction during preseason. They scrimmaged the University of Virginia – an overwhelming preseason favorite in the ACC – at Northeastern University on Aug. 15 and played to a 2-2 tie. Hayley Rausch (Severna Park, Md.) scored both UNH goals as she gave the ‘Cats a 1-0 lead in the first half and leveled the score, 2-2, in the second half.
New Hampshire was the highest-scoring team in America East last year, and they should have a highly potent attack again in ‘09 with three of the four players who recorded 20+ points returning to the lineup. At the other end of the field, the defense will be much improved with the leadership of a veteran, experienced corps of backs.
With a highly talented and experienced corps intact, UNH will have a staunch defense in 2009. Three backs started all 20 games in ‘08 – a fourth was a significant part of the rotation – and goalkeeper Katherine Nagengast (Westborough, Mass.) returns with a year of collegiate experience.
Cally Cooke (Newburyport, Mass.) is a senior with three years of starting experience. She garnered America East All-Conference Second Team recognition last season and proved to be not only a leader of the defensive unit but to the team, as evident by the captain band she wore a majority of the time. Cooke helped propel UNH into the America East championship game by setting up the game-winning overtime goal against rival Maine in the semifinals.
Kiera Williams (Dover, N.H.) is another senior who can boast three years as a starter and America East All-Conference Second Team accolades (in 2007).
Kendall Deck (Bridgewater, N.J.) immediately stepped into a starting role last year as a freshman and went on to earn America East All-Rookie Team honors. In addition to her role on the defensive end of the field, Deck emerged as the stopper on the offensive penalty corner unit and tallied five assists; that total tied for third highest on the team.
Kyle Lyons (White River Junction, Vt.) played in 17 of 20 games in her rookie campaign of ‘08 and gained significant experience coming off the bench as well as starting this past spring. She was called upon to contribute to the offense just once, and answered that call by scoring a penalty-stroke goal in the America East semifinal to help the ‘Cats advance to the title game.
Newcomer Kylie Damon (Skowhegan, Maine) adds depth to the defensive unit. Damon, a freshman, was an All-America Second Team selection as well as a two-time Regional All-America honoree at Skowhegan Area High School; she helped lead the team to a state championship four consecutive years. Jess Sweeney (Accord, N.Y.) is a transfer from Hofstra University, where she did not see any game action as a freshman in 2008; she will redshirt the 2009 season.
In goal, Nagengast saw limited action last season as a freshman. She played in five games with one start (at Holy Cross) and did not factor into a decision (0-0 record). Nagengast tallied 11 saves during her time in net – a total of 113:51 – for a .550 save percentage.
Kara Connolly (Mohegan Lake, N.Y.) and Kate Collins Smyth (Parteen, County Claire/Ireland) lead a young group of midfielders.
Connolly, the lone junior on the squad, saw increased playing time in ‘08 – when she played in all 20 games with 10 starts – and that trend should continue into the 2009 season.
Collins Smyth garnered America East All-Rookie Team recognition in 2008. She started all 20 games and tied for third on the team in assists (five) as a freshman; she also tallied two goals to finish with a total of nine points.
The crop of freshmen consists of Emily Buda (Simsbury, Conn.), Emma Erler (New Hampton, N.H.) and Melyssa Woods (Glens Falls, N.Y.). Buda earned Regional All-America and state Player of the Year accolades as a senior, when she captained Simsbury High School to a state title. Erler garnered both Regional All-America and All-State First Team honors twice, and she led Newfound Regional High School to a pair of state championships. Woods was named to the All-State Team and led Glens Falls High School to a runner-up finish last year as a senior.
The highest-scoring offense in America East will have to find a way to offset the loss of the Offensive Player of the Year, Sarah Craigue, to graduation.
A good place to start is with senior Meg Shea (Melrose, Mass.), whose 2008 accolades included NFHCA Northeast Region First Team and America East All-Conference First Team. Shea tied for the team lead in goals (11) and was second in points (24), and with those numbers she ranked third in the league in goals per game and sixth in points per game. One day after receiving All-Conference honors, Shea scored two goals – including the one in sudden-death overtime – to springboard UNH past the league semifinals to the title game.
Leah Boody (Amesbury, Mass.), another senior, closed the 2008 season on a strong note by recording a point in four of the last six regular-season games, when she became an integral part of the offensive penalty corner unit. She finished in a tie for third on the team in assists.
Whitney Frates (Woodstock, Vt.) and Rausch were expected to make an immediate impact last year as rookies. And they did exactly that by becoming the first freshmen since 1983 to record 20+ points.
Frates, who was named to both the America East All-Conference Second Team and All-Rookie Team as well as the NFHCA Northeast Region Second Team, ranked second on the team in assists (seven) as well as third in both points (23) and shooting percentage and tied for third in goals (eight); in America East, she ranked fifth in assists per game and eighth in points per game. Frates recorded a team-best seven-game point-scoring streak in which she compiled six goals and three assists for 15 points.
Rausch, who started 15 of the 17 games in which she played, tied with Frates for third on the team in goals (eight) and also had four assists to finish with 20 points; the point total ranked fourth and she had a team-best .364 shooting percentage. In America East, Rausch was sixth in goals per game and seventh in points per game.
The trio of Clare Becker (Chevy Chase, Md.), Shayna Duffy (Dover, N.H.) and Mary Quill (Portsmouth, N.H.) join the front line of the attack. Becker recorded 16 goals and 20 assists last year as a senior at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, which is one of the dominant programs in Maryland. Duffy was named to the All-State Team her senior year at nearby Dover High School. Quill, another Seacoast New Hampshire native out of Portsmouth High School, joined Duffy on the All-State Team, and she was a Second Team selection as a junior.
In addition to five America East league games, the Wildcats will battle four Ivy League teams as well as two ACC teams, a pair of Big East squads and a member of the Big 10. Of the 18 regular-season games, five are home at Memorial Field and three are at neutral sites.
The 2009 season opens Aug. 30 at home against Syracuse University, a team that advanced to the semifinals of last year’s NCAA tournament and ended the year ranked third in the national polls.
New Hampshire begins September with a pair of games in the Ocean State against Brown University (Sept. 4) and Providence College (Sept. 6). The ‘Cats then make the first of two trips to Burlington, Vt. to play Cal-Davis and Penn at UVM’s Sheraton Classic on Sept. 12-13.
UNH continues play against another Ivy League team, Harvard, on Sept. 16 and returns home to face Holy Cross on the 19th. The Wildcats then hit the road again to battle Davidson and Duke, a 2008 NCAA quarterfinalist that was ranked eighth in the country.
League play begins Oct. 3 at home against interstate rival Maine, and the ‘Cats travel to play Northeastern and Dartmouth before resuming America East action at Vermont. The next day, UNH travels to Cambridge, Mass. (Harvard) to play Michigan.
New Hampshire plays a fifth consecutive out-of-town game against Boston University on Oct. 17 and then plays host to Boston College – a team that ended ’08 at No. 15 in the rankings – on the 18th.
The Wildcats will hold Senior Day on Oct. 24 against Fairfield University and conclude the regular season the following weekend at Albany, the defending America East champion who defeated UNH, 2-1, in last year’s league title game.
Postseason play begins in November, when UNH looks
to make its third consecutive appearance in the America East