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Wayne Cavadi | | October 12, 2016

DII Women's Notebook: Defense remains key

  Saint Anselm started its field hockey program about 15 years ago.

Saint Anselm does not have a long and storied past when it comes to field hockey as the program began only 15 years ago. The past five seasons have seen Carolyn King-Robitaille at the helms. She was tasked with bringing the Hawks the program's first winning season, she knew it wouldn’t be an overnight task.

“When I took over the program in 2012, it was my first ever head-coaching job,” King-Robitaille said. “I was just excited to have the opportunity to run my own program after assisting some wonderful coaches. I quickly realized how special the student-athletes and the college were and felt that we could really move this program into an incredibly competitive direction within a three to five-year timeline.” 

King-Robitaille hit her goal. She amassed a 20-32 record through three seasons. Spirits were high entering 2015, as they had come off an 8-9 season that was highlighted by a huge 5-1 start. They knew they were close, it was simply a matter of putting it together from start to finish.

  Last year, the Hawks made it to the NCAA tournament.
The 2015 season saw the Hawks grab that first winning season as they finished with 15 wins, going 9-3 in the competitive Northeast-10 Conference and making that NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

“The 2015 season was certainly an incredible season, but I think more than that, the 2014 season truly helped us form a new mindset,” King-Robitaille said. “We opened the 2014 season beating the No. 4 ranked teams in the country in back-to-back weeks. The players on that squad, which include our current juniors and seniors began to truly understand what it takes to win in this conference and this division. Most importantly, they finally believed it could be done. Once you have that belief, no one can take it away from you. We have continued to carry that belief with us as the team transforms year to year, and that belief remains strong.”

One of those seniors is goalkeeper Katherine Sears. She has had her fair share of ups and downs, waiting patiently for her turn to shine. She did just that in the 2015 season, winning all 15 games in net, including five shutouts.

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“What I have experienced these past four years is growing a mediocre program into a great, nationally ranked one,” Sears said. “Coming in as a freshman, I did not expect to see time on the field. When the opportunity came, I worked hard on and off the field to become the best goalkeeper I could become for my team. I wanted my team to trust me as an anchor on defense, so I worked hard to prove it to them.”

Sears knew there was something special with this group all the way back in her freshman campaign. The Hawks were up against the wall, with one game left to make the playoffs. They lost that game, but with any loss comes positives. Something clicked, and the Hawks have been on the rise since that last game of 2013.

“At the end of the game, I thought to myself, ‘This will not be the last time we will be in this position. I want this program to grow to the best it can be during my four years here,’” Sears said. “Senior year has showed that, and freshman year proved to be the beginning of something that was going to be great for Saint Anselm College field hockey.”

Adding to Sears spectacular play in goal this season has been a balanced attack on offense. Led by freshman Hannah Friend and junior Allia Connolly, the Hawks have the perfect blend on their offensive attack.

  Senior goalkeeper Katherine Sears remains a major reason for the Hawks' success.
“What I love about this team is how balanced we are,” King-Robitaille said. “We have ten players who have scored a goal this season and eight players who have scored more than one goal. This team is incredibly unselfish; they just want to win. Allia is a vocal leader. She is fiery, passionate and definitely gets up for those big moments and has come through for us in many of them. Hannah, on the other hand, is quieter, but her play speaks volumes. She has great skill and intensity on the field. They work so well together and make it difficult for other teams to hone in on any one offensive threat.”

The Hawks sit at 10-2 on the season with Sears capturing all of those wins in goal behind two shutouts. October has been particularly grueling, Saint Anselm started off with a match against then-No. 1 ranked LIU Post and lost in overtime. They defeated  No. 9 Adelphi and now they prepare for two more nationally ranked opponents in No. 4 Stonehill and No. 10 American International. 

“LIU Post (was) the top-ranked field hockey program in the country, which we knew going in would be a challenge,” Sears said. “We learned that we can hold our own against a team at that status. For the games to come, we know that we are up for the challenge if we play our game and keep our foot on the pedal. We are ready and know what we have to do when we face LIU again, but for now, we have to focus on the games to come. For this upcoming week, we know we have to keep up our level of intensity and skill. We want to win it all, and we will prove it to everyone this year.”

Sears knows now is the time for Saint Anselm to take advantage of the opportunity.

“As a senior, I want to leave this program with no regrets,” Sears said. “This is by far the best group of young women I have ever played with, and I believe as a unit we can get the job done. I can say, as a senior, each individual on this team has the same goal, which is to be the last team playing this season in the NCAA tournament. I play for this team because I want it to become the absolute best program in the country, and I know we can accomplish that this season.”

DII Women's Soccer: Truman State continues to rack up zeroes behind NSCAA DII Player of the Week Katie Mattingly

Katie Mattingly is mean. She simply doesn’t welcome the ball into her net, turning it away 20 times over her last five starts and inviting none in for the victory party that the Bulldogs have been celebrating all season. 

  Junior goalkeeper Katie Mattingly has posted two five-game shutout streaks this season.
The Truman State Bulldogs are on a roll, having won eleven matches in a row  since playing to a draw in their season opener. They have been on a tear since last season to be more precise, taking home their first Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament championship since moving into the league from the MIAA in 2013.

“Winning the GLVC tournament last year was incredible,” Mattingly said. “That was a goal for us from day one, so it was great to achieve something that we all worked so hard for together. Naturally, when you achieve a goal like that, you start looking higher, and we are always looking to be better. We came into this season ready to work hard as a team, which I think we've definitely accomplished so far.”

Mattingly — a junior goal keeper — is currently amid her second five-game shutout streak of this season as the heart and soul of this defense. Both included victories against nationally-ranked conference rivals. This time around, she was noticed on the national level, not only taking home her third GLVC Defensive Player of the Week award but the NSCAA DII Player of the Week Award. 

“My defenders have been just outstanding this year,” Mattingly said. “Our defense really plays as one unit instead of individual players, and I think that's a huge key to our success. We are always looking to cover for each other if someone gets beat or is caught out of position, and we are constantly communicating and trying to help each other out as much as possible. Our defense is truly a team effort. As a goalkeeper, I couldn't ask for more talented, hard-working players than the ones in front of me. They've made my job as a goalkeeper pretty easy — I’d be nothing without the team in front of me.”

Last season was yet another successful one for Mattingly and her Bulldogs. They have been a model of consistency, not having a losing season since 1993, during head coach Mike Cannon’s long tenure. Along with winning the GLVC Tournament Championship last year, Cannon also claimed his 300th win, a feat only seven other Division II coaches have accomplished.

  Last year, Truman earned the GLVC championship title.
“I think I can speak for the whole team in saying that we truly couldn't ask for more out of a coach than what Coach Cannon gives to us,” Mattingly said. “Having a coach that is so dedicated and passionate about our team is extremely motivating as a player. When your coach is giving 100 percent to the team, it makes everyone want to do the same. He knows how to make us work hard while having fun at practice, which I think is a huge contributor to our team chemistry. I'm so glad I got to be a part of that huge milestone for him.”

Truman State hits the road for two games this weekend looking to stay undefeated. They take on Wisconsin-Parkside on Friday before a showdown with Lewis on Sunday.

DII Women's Soccer Game of the Week: 

One of the biggest matches of the week came early as No. 5 West Chester hosted No. 11 East Stroudsburg Tuesday afternoon. Both teams would enter the game undefeated in the PSAC, but by the final whistle, West Chester would remain the lone team yet to lose in the conference. 

It was all one could hope for in a heavy weight bout. For 89 minutes, both teams kept each other off the board, but 15 seconds into the final minute of play, freshman midfielder Jenny Ball put WCU ahead for good. Her fourth goal of the season secured the 1-0 win for West Chester as they moved to 12-0-0 on the season.

DII Women's Volleyball: Central Oklahoma prepares for UNK in Match of the Week

“Passion. Hard work. Leadership. Consistency. Growth. Technique.”

That's what All-American senior setter Katy Davis said she hopes her legacy will be at Central Oklahoma. She has watched her team grow from MIAA contender to a prominent player on the national stage. Last season, Davis helped lead UCO to their first NCAA postseason appearance since 2007.

  To head to the NCAA tournament, the Bronchos will have to defeat a number of ranked opponents.
"It's been incredible to see this program transform from freshman year to senior year," Davis said. "There has been a very evident shift in culture and work ethic these past four years.  We hold each other accountable. And, we have put in a lot of hard work and had a lot of success, but we're not done yet." 

This season, they are out to an even stronger start. They have been in the top 10 for much of the season, setting the bar for the highest ranking in UCO's history twice already this year. They first made program history when they reached No. 9 in the country and broke their own record the following week when they reached No. 7. Sitting at 20-1, they are now holding steady at No. 10 in the country in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll.

“It was definitely a great feeling,” Davis said. “It has been incredible to compete in the MIAA and be acknowledged for those milestones, but we know we always have to get right back to work. We approach everyday with the attitude that we need to get better today. We know that we have a target on our back, so we can never get complacent."

Davis has had a remarkable career with the Bronchos, and she has done it behind unselfish play. Heading into this season, she was fourth on the UCO all-time assist list with 3,190 and has become known as one of the best passers in the ultra-competitive MIAA, a conference with five teams in the AVCA Top 25. With the spotlight on the Bronchos, and in turn, all eyes on Davis, she has stepped up to the challenge.

“I would pick this kind of pressure over anything, any day,” Davis said. “I've worked my whole life to be in a situation like this, so I've been relishing every moment.  I know that once my career is over, I will forever cherish these past four years and all of the lasting memories and friendships made.”

  This UCO team has broken into the top 10 multiple times this season.
The Bronchos will have no easy road back to the NCAA tournament as the rest of the schedule will be a test of both their endurance and moxie. After a bout with the always tough Fort Hays State on Friday, they face off in the Match of the Week that pits No. 5 University of Nebraska-Kearney against No. 10 UCO. Still left on the schedule are two matches with No. 15 Washburn as well as an Oct. 28 showdown with their long-time nemesis No. 16 Central Missouri. Since Davis has been a Broncho, the Jennies have bounced the Bronchos from the MIAA Tournament twice and are responsible for their lone loss in 2016.

“We do have some big games ahead,” Davis said. “But every game in the MIAA is just as important as the next. Each game gives us the opportunity to show how hard we've been working. It has been awesome to see this program grow and begin to challenge some of these established programs. Having a chance at a big victory is the reason why we play collegiate volleyball. The competition level of the MIAA is outstanding and we are so blessed to compete in it.”