DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire field hockey team won the America East regular-season championship in 2010 and 2011 – with a combined league record of 9-1 – and takes aim at a three-peat in 2012 under the direction of 22nd-year head coach Robin Balducci, who was honored as the league's Coaching Staff of the Year both of those championship seasons.
The Wildcats, who return 13 letterwinners, including six starters, and welcome nine newcomers to the program, tied the school record for victories (17) and broke the single-season benchmark for goals, assists and points en route to winning the 2011 league tournament title and advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000.
In addition to a third consecutive regular-season title, successful defense of its tourney crown and another trip to the NCAAs, UNH looks to extended its streak of double-digit victories to four consecutive years, which is a feat that hasn't been accomplished since the 1997-2000 seasons.
UNH graduated two of its all-time top point producers (All-America selections Whitney Frates and Hayley Rausch), which will give its five returners and four newcomers a chance to step into the spotlight and continue the Wildcats' recent stretch of prolific offenses.
Mary Quill, a senior from neighboring Portsmouth, had a breakthrough season in 2011. She entered last season with 15 career games played in two years and more than doubled that number with 16 appearances, including one start, as a junior. As an important part of the rotation on the front line, Quill recorded six points – all on goals.
Mackenzie Joyce (South Pomfret, Vt.) has seen limited playing time wearing the Blue and White for two years. She played in just one game as a freshman and saw action in nine games, including the America East Championship title game, last year as a sophomore. When Joyce was on the field, she was part of the offensive penalty corner unit as the insert.
Hannah Richard – another Granite State native (Hopkinton) – was also a key component off UNH's bench in 2011. She played in 18 of 22 games, including all three in the postseason. As a freshman in 2010, Richard appeared in all 21 regular-season games and was in the starting lineup six times. She has played in all 10 America East conference games in two years as a Wildcat.
Claire Grogan (Canton, Mass.) has seen limited playing time – 13 career games, all off the bench – since joining the program as a walk-on before the start of the 2009 season. Sophomore Meg Flatley (Townsend, Mass.) is another student-athlete who walked onto the team; she did not see any game action last fall.
The four newcomers looking to provide a scoring touch for the 'Cats on the front line are Meg Carroll (Mansfield, Mass.), Emma Compagna (Canton, Mass.), Lynne Lehman (Landisburg, Pa.) and Cari Posternak (York, Maine). Both Carroll and Compagna were named to the Hockomock League All-Star Team a year ago. Lehman was an All-State Second Team selection and three-time all-conference honoree. Posternak was a two-time selection to the All-State Team and led York to consecutive state titles.
The midfield, patrolled by seniors Emma Erler (New Hampton, N.H.) and Melyssa Woods (Glens Falls, N.Y.) as well as junior Casey Pohlmeyer (Millersville, Md.), is the backbone of the 2012 Wildcats. This triumvirate boasts seven years of starting experience and all three student-athletes are integral to both the defensive and offensive penalty corner units.
Woods immediately stepped into a starting role upon arriving in Durham and has America East All-Rookie Team (2009) on her résumé. She recorded five points (two goals, one assist) last year to duplicate her personal-best numbers from that freshman year.
Erler, an America East All-Academic Team selection each of the past two years for her excellence in athletics and academics, stepped into a starting role as a sophomore and, in terms of offensive statistics, had a breakout season in '11. Erler finished with four goals and 10 assists for 18 points, and those numbers ranked third overall in assists and fourth in points; she is UNH's top returner in both assists and points.
Pohlmeyer was selected to the America East All-Rookie Team in 2010 and followed that with an even stronger sophomore campaign in which she tallied five goals and three assists for 13 points. Pohlmeyer ranked fifth in points and tied for fourth in goals; among returning players, she is second to Erler in points and tied Megan Bozek atop the goals leaderboard. Pohlmeyer also tops all returning 'Cats in shots (28).
Kellie Joyce (South Pomfret, Vt.), who joined older sister Mackenzie at UNH last year as a freshman, is another Wildcat midfielder who has garnered America East All-Rookie Team recognition. Kellie led all Wildcat freshmen in goals (two), assists (three) and points (seven) in 2011. Among returning players, she was the team's fourth leading point producer and tied for second – with Pohlmeyer – in assists.
Taylor Rideout (Barrington, R.I.) is the only new addition to an experienced quartet of midfielders. Rideout was named to the NFHCA All-America Third Team as a high school senior and was selected to the All-State First Team twice.
The defensive unit, like the attack, must replace two key players lost to graduation (All-America honoree Kyle Lyons and Kendall Deck). But UNH can build its core around junior Megan Bozek (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.) and sophomore Maegan Grew (Hampton Falls, N.H.), both of whom are critical cogs of the defensive penalty corner.
Bozek's collegiate accolades include NFHCA Northeast Region Second Team, America East All-Conference Second Team and America East All-Academic Team in 2011 as well as 2010 conference All-Rookie Team. In addition to solidifying the defense – she recorded a team-high three defensive saves – Bozek is a scoring threat on offensive penalty corners. She tallied 11 points on five goals and an assist a year ago to rank sixth in points and tied for fourth in goals; with those numbers, Bozek is tied among returning players for the top mark in goals and is third in points.
Grew started all 22 games alongside Bozek in the '11 season and was selected to the America East All-Rookie Team for her defensive prowess.
Christine Albertelli (Ballwin, Mo.) looks to see increased playing time as a sophomore; she played in three games – all off the bench – a year ago.
Chandler Giese (Trappe, Pa.) and Molly Heaney (East Kingston, N.H.) are expected to make immediate contributions. Giese as an All-State First Team selection in 2011 and one year earlier she was named to the Second Team; Giese was tabbed to the Pac 10 All-Conference First Team both years. Heaney also had a highly-decorated schoolgirl career in which she was a three-time All-State First Team honoree (2009-10-11) and New Hampshire Division I Player of the Year (2011); she was an All-State Second Team selection as a freshman in 2008.
New Hampshire also graduated its starting goalkeeper who played 88.4 percent of the overall minutes, and Carlie Tarbell (Wakefield, Mass.) is the only one of the three goalies on the 2012 roster with collegiate experience. Tarbell played a total of 180:09 in six games last year as a freshman. She had a 1-0 record with a 0.39 GAA and .917 save percentage. In her only start, Tarbell stopped five of six shots at Vermont to record her first career victory. She did not allow a goal in five relief appearances totaling 110:09.
Incoming freshmen Lexy Cole (Belgrade, Maine) and Lauren Gardner (Allentown, Pa.) will battle for playing time. Cole, who recorded 10 shutouts in 17 games as a senior, was an All-State honoree as a junior in 2010. Her other accolades included All-Conference First Team in 2010 and 2011 and All-Conference in '09. Gardner was named to the 2011 All-State Academic Team.
UNH plays 10 of its 18 regular-season games at home and that begins with back-to-back games at Memorial Field against UMass (Aug. 24) and Ohio State (Aug. 26). The Buckeyes are one of four opponents who competed in the 2011 NCAA tournament as well as one of seven that was ranked in the final national poll.
America East, which boasted three teams in the 2011 final poll, will advance an NCAA automatic qualifier from its conference tournament that will be held Nov. 2 & 4 at the site of the highest seed. New Hampshire, which has been that top seed each of the last two years, will look to extend its streak of consecutive league tourney appearances to five.