Field Hockey — East Stroudsburg set to defend title

It was a long time coming for East Stroudsburg’s field hockey head coach Sandy Miller. She is one of the winningest coaches in DII women's field hockey — her 376 victories heading into the 2016 season ranked her third on the all-time list. None, however, was as sweet as 376.

“It was awesome,” Miller said of finally winning that elusive national championship. “It kind of got the monkey off of my back, so to speak. We’ve been there, we’ve been so close, and now we’re trying to get there on a more consistent basis. You win that national title, you get people talking to you that maybe weren’t talking to you before. Winning the national championship does so many things, whether it’s more alumni thanking you or getting emails from people you didn’t even know, it’s outstanding.”

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That’s how the 2015 season ended. Miller led the ESU Warriors to their first ever Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title in the program’s history and followed it up with their first National Championship, when All-American senior Ally Roth scored the game winner in overtime to rise victorious 1-0. 

That has all changed however. The excitement of chasing that first championship has shifted as the hunter has become the hunted. Now, it’s the focus and determination to take the proverbial target off of their backs.

“It does put a little bit of pressure on you,” Miller said. “We talked to the team a little bit before practice and told them last year was last year. We’re the defending champs and it’s a positive. But we are going to do things differently this year, it’s a different team. Obviously, we have the same dreams at the end to be the champs. But we’re just trying to get the players to take a little bit of the pressure off since everybody is gunning for you, trying to get that little mental edge.”

Gone is Ally Roth, who, statistically speaking, was one of the greatest field hockey players in PSAC history. Also gone are Marisa Miro and All-American Rebecca Snyder. But Miller doesn’t have to panic as she has a very formidable returning class coming back.

Some are shifting positions, such as 2015 All-American Emily Howell and Morgan Firestine, but their athleticism and leadership will be heavily relied upon. As will All-American mid Desi Mack and goalie Danielle Ard.

“We’re not going to change our style of play, we’re going to go with what worked,” Miller said of her 2016 attack. “We’ll play some dynamic hockey, press and play defense for 70 minutes. We did lose Ally Roth and Marisa Miro, two big guns on the forward line, but the kids are better coming back, they’ve worked hard. And we have a young lady — Bailey Quinn — who transferred to us from ODU, and she’ll be able to pick up some of that slack as well.”

The incoming freshmen won’t be expected to turn around or rebuild the program, but instead learn how to win and mature from the veteran lineup ahead of them.

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“We won’t have any jumping into the starting lineup,” Miller said on the freshmen crop. “Grace Martini is going to be our first sub coming in, strong kid and a hard worker. Emily Spangler is going to get in there pretty soon, she’s a great athlete. Our freshman goal keeper Maddie Richie is tough. It’s a really good class, there’s seven freshmen in that class. They have the mindset that we want, hard workers who love the game.”

Miller and the Warriors wasted no time in starting their season. First on the schedule was Merrimack. Not only was Merrimack the No. 4 ranked team in the nation, it happened to be the national runners-up.

“I knew they were going to be out for blood and that we’d have a battle on our hands,” Miller said of the opening game. “But we prepared ourselves in the spring, we were playing the Millersvilles and the West Chesters. We scrimmaged Lock Haven — a Division I team — on their astroturf, we scrimmaged Bucknell and York University from Ontario, Canada. We’ve gotten some good scrimmages and put in the work, so we’re ready for the challenges.

“We’re opening up tough, that’s why we had to play those scrimmages,” Miller said. “We played Merrimack and then we go to Stonehill. So we’re playing two of the teams that were in the final four. Then we got Bloomsburg that is in the top eight or nine. We want to be good, you got to beat the good teams.”

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The Warriors are off and running, as the No. 1 team in the country currently went 2-1 on their opening season run against nationally ranked top ten teams, gaining victories against Merrimack and Stonehill before dropping one to No. 8 Bloomsburg. While last season was a magical one, for Miller and ESU, they hope it is just the beginning.

“I have a really good coaching staff, and I couldn’t have done it without them and the girls all put the work in,” Miller said. “It was the dream of a lifetime. I’d like to have that dream again. You get it once, you want to keep getting it, and now the players are very, very hungry as well.”

Women's soccer: No. 2 Columbus State answers early test, while Colorado School of Mines make biggest jump

The Columbus State Cougars women’s soccer team entered the season ranked No. 2 in the preseason NSCAA Coaches Poll. They would be put right to the test in 2016 as they had to face off against No. 18 North Alabama in their season and home opener.

The Cougars would prevail, shutting out UNA 3-0 before defeating Wingate two days later to sweep through the CSU Collegiate Invitational. The two victories to start their season helped make program history as they leapfrogged the three-time defending national champion Grand Valley State for the No. 1 spot in the nation. 

RELATED: Columbus State moves to No. 1

It doesn’t get any easier for the Cougars as they hit the road to play Lynn Friday before having to face two Top 25 teams on their opponents' home turf, first No. 12 Barry and then No. 22 Lee. The road trip will be yet another early test for this team.

Senior Nicole Corcione, coming off a tremendous 2015 in which she earned All-American honors as well as the D2CCA Southeast Region Player of the Year and the NCAA Division II Elite 90 Award in academics, has started the season right where she left off. She is currently leading the offensive surge for the Cougars, having scored a goal in each of the first two games of the season. 

The biggest mover of the week was Colorado Mines, who jumped from No. 23 all the way to No. 6 in the Sept. 6 NSCAA Coaches Poll. They did so behind a fast 2-0 start to the season in which they have held both opponents scoreless. They have currently outscored the foes 6-0 on the season.

The Orediggers were most impressive in their home opener against Dallas Baptist who came in ranked No. 7 in the preseason poll. Their offensive attack is rather young and exciting as the scoring onslaught was led by a bevy of underclassmen. Redshirt junior Cari Smith opened the scoring, before assisting sophomore Emily Townsend for the second goal of the game. Not to be outdone, freshmen Giselle Sawaged and Nicole LaTourette scored the next two, before red shirt sophomore Jennifer Kendall put in the empty netter. The youth of the Orediggers, paired with a defense that has allowed senior keeper Sam Zumbro to have to defend only four shots on the young season, certainly has them on the watch list. 

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Mines faces another tough one this weekend as they go on the road to California where they face off against Cal State San Bernardino before a Sunday matchup that pits them against the new No. 7 team, UC San Diego, in La Jolla.