Aug. 24, 2009

By Kevin Scheitrum

Division II

The name atop D-II field hockey has only etched itself deeper into the books over the past three years, taking home three straight titles and the Huskies’ sixth in seven years (and 12th in 18 years of D-II championships). Sure, Bloomsburg’s losing Jamie Vanartsdalen, one of the finest players in D-II history, along with a few other seniors, including 55-point-scorer Samantha Kropa. But this wouldn’t be Bloomsburg without a next line of troops slipping immediately into place – backups that would have been starters at other D-II schools and, in a lot of cases, D-I, too. Look for Chelsea Due, the spark that’s ignited Bloomsburg’s deadly attack for the past few seasons, to emerge as a star this year, while senior Maggey Bloskey gets the bulk of the chances to drive the ball into the net on offense and improve on her team-second 21 goals last year.

Indiana (Pa.)
It seems diminishing to judge a team through comparison to Bloomsburg. But in the case of the Crimson Hawks, little more has told their story over the past two years. Two years ago, playing against the Huskies in the yet-to-be-split PSAC, IUP dropped Bloomsburg three times. The fourth time – in the national semifinals, the game that effectively nullified every second of all three games before – Bloomsburg evicted IUP from the Tournament. Last year, posting an undefeated record through their first 13 games, the Hawks took only their second loss of the season to Shippensburg in the national semis. This year, the Hawks will have a great deal of spots to fill, as coach Rutger Wiese's Holland-to-Indiana pipeline sees a great deal of turnover, with the two-year rule for Dutch players. But if the talent bursting from this freshman class is any indication, expect to see this team playing for another title.

Northeast-10 Coach of the Year Shannon Hlebcihuk’s squad started last year with a chance to bookend its seniors’ careers with national championships, after the River Hawks pulled in the lone non-Bloomsburg title in the past seven years in 2005. They then proceeded to lose their first two games, badly, to IUP. But Lowell rallied, winning 11 straight games en route to a 20-5 regular season and that involved school records for goals-scored (98), goals-against average (1.32) and consecutive shutout minutes at 406:17. But their season ended the way it had the year before, falling to Bloomsburg in the final. This year, though, Lowell gets back rising junior Sammy Macy, who set school records in goals (28) and points (64), along with Jaci Moulton, 2007 NE-10 Offensive Player of the Year, and Katie Enaire, 2007 conference Rookie of the Year. In a year that will see Bloomsburg as close to re-tooling as any, expect Lowell to burst out of the gates.

The Falcons were just one of two teams to notch byes in the D-II tourney last year, joining Bloomsburg in waiting a week for its second-round opponent. Unfortunately for Bentley, the opponent was UMass-Lowell, a team the Falcons had beaten two straight times – including a 1-0 OT win in the NE-10 final. But the bulk of the roster is back, with just three seniors leaving to graduation, so this looks like a Bentley team that’s ready for some classic conference showdowns with Lowell this year – and there are two on the schedule – en route to another Tourney berth. And if there wasn’t enough incentive to make a run this year, all five of the Falcons’ top scorers last year – Courtney Bartlett, Nicole Murphy, Abbie DeMusis, Allison St. Jean and Jenna Panzone – are seniors this year.

Division III

The defending national champs had a great deal of magic conspiring against them in the national championship game, taking on a Tufts team that crept into the final game after nine years of missing the Tournament completely. Luckily, Bowdoin also had Lindsay McNamara. After Tufts evened the score at 2-2 in the second half and sent the game into two OT’s, the Polar Bears’ all-time leading scorer tapped in a rebound to give Bowdoin its second straight title. But McNamara left Bowdoin with every goal-scoring mark in program history. Fellow first-team All-American Julia King and third-teamer Leah Ferenc aren’t around anymore, either. So, without its two engines up front and Ferenc, who anchored a Polar Bear defense that led the country in goals-against average, Bowdoin may have to scramble to find its stride in the early goings.

By virtue of its run through the Tournament last year, Tufts finds an automatic place as one of our teams to watch this year. But, judging by its roster, it would’ve had a spot anyway. The Jumbos’ 2008 season, bringing them to their first NCAA Tourney in nine years and a final record of 19-2, came thanks to one of the most talented teams to ever set foot in Somerville, Mass. – a team that had only three seniors. Just three. That means that all three of the Jumbos’ top-scoring trio of Tamara Brown, Amanda Russo and Michelle Kelly are all back (accounting for 125 points in ’08). The loss of Marlee Kutcher on defense could hurt, but back in net is Marianna Zak and her 0.91 GAA last year. So, a year removed from a program renaissance, look for Tufts to just add to last year’s huge push forward.

The last of the 19 teams that Tufts sliced through in ’08, Messiah advanced to the national semifinals 100 miles down the road at Collegeville, Penn. Like Tufts, the Falcons lost only three seniors to graduation, with the bulk of the team returning – including first-team All-Americans Julie Barton at midfield and Ashley Mowery in net, along with third-teamer Brittany Godshall on defense. Don’t forget, this is a team that finished the regular season in the top position in the STX/NFHCA poll and knocked off 10 teams in the top 20 en route to the 12th national semifinals berth in program history. The pedigree is there for another journey toward the final weekend with seven of the Falcons’ top eight point-scorers returning from last year.

By far the nation’s most explosive offensive team in 2008, at 6.18 goals a game (1.09 ahead of second-place Lebanon Valley), Ursinus is back after falling at home in the national semis to Bowdoin. While top scorers Jennie Moore and Kait Sutherland are gone, back are 17-goal scorers Alyssa Thren and Jen Hooven and a slew of members of the 2006 national championship team. And if taking on the country’s best weren’t enough, the Bears jetted off to Europe in the spring for a 10-day tour around Holland, Belgium and Germany, taking on international competition throughout.

Two facts jump out about Salisbury’s 15-3 season in 2008. The first is that the Sea Gulls allowed only 13 goals the entire season, including four in its 4-3, NCAA Tourney second-round loss to Cortland State. The second is that they did it with just one senior. Going into 2009, the only missing piece from last year’s defensive machine is Heather Berntsen, who graduated in the spring. So, if there were to be a year for Salisbury to win its first national championship since 2005, this year looks to be it. With every top scorer – well, every scorer – set to come back, what better way to reward coach Dawn Chamberlain, who in January was inducted into the NFHCA Hall of Fame?

It’s getting crowded in the NESCAC, with Bowdoin and Tufts asserting themselves as the nation’s best in 2008, a year after Middlebury fell to the Polar Bears in the 2007 championship game. Although Bowdoin’s reigned lately, the pile beneath the Bears has only gotten better, with Middlebury always near the top. All four of the Panthers’ losses last year came to Bowdoin and Tufts, so look for them to roar back with added fire this year, led by junior All-American Chase Delano (61 points in ’08) and fellow forward Heather McCormack (29 points).