Departure of Massachusetts-Lowell leaves teams vying to stop West Chester
Two-time defending national champion West Chester was the preseason favorite for the national title, but Shippensburg, Bloomsburg, Millersville and Indiana (Pa.) are all right behind the Golden Rams.
One team they won't have to worry about is UMass-Lowell, which makes the move to Division I this fall.
As the opening of the regular season looms, here's a look at the teams we believe will be in the hunt.
The two-time defending national champion West Chester will begin the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
The Golden Rams are coming off their second consecutive national title, beating Massachusetts-Lowell in the championship game on each occasion. The Red Hawks have flown off to Division I, leaving West Chester as the favorite once again.
It marks the second consecutive year that the Golden Rams begin the year as the top-ranked team in the land. Third-year head coach Amy Cohen returns six starters in the field. They will be responsible for taking some of the pressure off whichever true freshman goalkeeper (Sarah Krause or Audree Bonavita) wins the starting spot in the cage.
Besides the loss of goalkeeper Kristin Arnold, the Golden Rams need to replace leading scorer Michele Schrift (25 goals, seven assists). But Kelsi Lykens (16 goals, 13 assists) was second on the team last year in points and returns for her senior season.
Shippensburg has qualified for the NCAA tournament in nine of the last 10 seasons – including five in a row.
Although the 2012 season ended in the same fashion as the 2011 season did – with a NCAA playoff loss to West Chester – the 2013 team is ready to compete.
Many valuable regulars are gone from the 2012 squad, including four defensive starters, which will make for a younger overall roster in 2013. Among the graduated are All-American goalkeeper Ciarra Delost (44-9, 0.89 GAA in 61 games), All-American defender Kayla Harshman (76 games, 55 starts, nine defensive saves), two-time All-American midfielder Jamie Levy (71 games, 41 starts, 16 points) and three-time All-American midfielder Taylor Jones (75 games, 67 starts, 25 goals, 67 points).
An experienced group of 16 returning players that includes reigning NFHCA Division II Player of the Year Bre White and two-time All-American center back Katie Shoop are motivated to lead the Raiders to a successful season. Factor in a very strong recruiting class, and the Raiders will look to be a postseason factor once again.
With 13 new faces on this season’s roster, the Huskies boast a much different look than that of a year ago – or even from spring workouts.
While the large group of newcomers haven’t been in maroon and gold long, they’ve likely all been brought up to speed on how last season ended and the desire of the upperclassmen to make another deep postseason run. A first-round defeat at the hands of Millersville in the PSAC playoffs marked the first time since 2001 that the Huskies haven’t either captured the conference title or finished runner-up. It was also the first time during that span where a season ended without a bid for Bloomsburg in the NCAA tournament.
“Losing in the first round of the conference playoffs last year stung,” Bloomsburg head coach Nikki Rhoads said. “I think the players want it bad this year. It’s not the title that they want; it’s the success they want for the program. That’s the way it’s been since I’ve been here. We want to play for Bloomsburg University, the representation for the institution itself and the field hockey program.”
A group of four seniors, the first graduating class to only play for Rhoads, along with a talented batch of new players aims to bring the Huskies back to the top this fall.
Millersville won't sneak up on anyone this year. After it reached the 2012 PSAC Championship with wins against perennial powers Shippensburg and Bloomsburg, the PSAC coaches have taken notice and ranked the Marauders No. 3 in the preseason poll.
The Marauders went 14-7 overall with a 7-3 PSAC East record last season, finishing third in the division behind West Chester and Bloomsburg. Millersville made its first PSAC tournament since 1993 and its first title game appearance since 1986. With a lofty preseason conference ranking, the Marauders turn their attention toward qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990 and for the first time as a Division II program.
Millersville lost six seniors that combined for 11 of the team's 37 goals as well as defensive stalwarts Maria Thompson and Emily Manwiller. Returning, however, are 11 of the 15 players that scored at least one goal. The group is headlined by leading scorer Katelyn Zapp, All-America first-team selection Rachel Dickinson and All-America second-team pick Sarah Bomberger. Junior Lauren Sotzin is back in goal after posting a school record eight shutouts and a .819 save percentage.
Head coach Shelly Behrens, the reigning national coach of the year, also added to the roster nine freshmen and a pair of transfers Hannah Whitman (Temple) and Jayde Kauffman (McDaniel).
Eight starters return from a team that went 14-6 in 2012, advancing to the semifinals of the PSAC championships and the quarterfinals of the NCAA championships. Included in those eight starters is Brielle Mackey, a first team All-PSAC West selection a year ago, and Casey McGowan, the 2011 PSAC West Freshman of the Year.
Among those who need to be replaced is last year’s leading scorer, Nicole Bruce who had 14 goals and 10 assists. One of those who will be counted on to replace her production is Bruce’s sister, Kate. Kate Bruce had 15 points last season, good for third on the team.
One unknown for the Crimson Hawks is who will be the goalkeeper since both Sarah Lemieux and Brittany Varacallo have graduated. That leaves junior Darian Shuker and redshirt freshman Alyssa Lerda, neither of whom saw action last year, as the only goaltenders on the roster.