Field Hockey | Jumbos prepared to defend national title
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 10:09
This fall, the bar is set high for the Tufts field hockey team. Approaching their first game of the season ranked No. 1 nationally, the Jumbos are on the hunt for a repeat performance of last November’s National Championship run.
However, the path to a second consecutive title won’t be easy. As always, Tufts will need to make it through a daunting conference schedule that includes showdowns with many of the country’s best teams.
Four other NESCAC squads join Tufts in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Div. III Preseason Poll, including perennial powerhouses No. 3 Middlebury and No. 4 Bowdoin, incidentally the only two teams to hand the Jumbos losses last fall. Tufts opened the 2012 season with a disappointing 5-2 defeat to the Panthers and later dropped a NESCAC Semifinal game to the Polar Bears.
Although it may be frustrating to play such a busy schedule against high-caliber teams, the Jumbos recognize that the high level of competition in the NESCAC serves only to make them a stronger team in the long run.
“I think that having such a tough schedule helps us to grow stronger and prepares us for anything that the season could bring,” NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Hannah Park, a sophomore, said. “I think our schedule will help us to play better and grow as a team in order to get that repeat.”
This year, Tufts starts off on a slightly different foot. The Jumbos, who have historically faced Middlebury in their season opener, will instead travel to Maine to square off against Bates in the first tilt of 2013.
Last season, the Jumbos graduated five seniors, including co-captain Rachel Gerhardt (LA ’13) and standout forward Lia Sagerman (LA ’13). This year, the Jumbos will showcase a largely new defensive look, where Gerhardt and Liza Wetzel (LA ’13) formerly held the line.
Seniors Chelsea Yogerst and Stephanie Wan take the helm as the team’s captains. Accompanied by senior All-American midfielder Emily Cannon, the co-captains have high hopes that their experienced crew of seniors can once again lead Tufts to the title game.
“[We seniors] have been lucky enough to look up to impressive senior classes and influential captains in the past three seasons, which has made our transition to the role of senior leaders much easier,” Yogerst said. “As a captain, I feel that it is important to constantly reiterate to the team that every player has a unique role and is ultimately important to our success throughout the season.”
Junior Bri Keenan, who tallied two national championships last year as a member of both the field hockey and softball teams, also returns as a battle-tested keeper to bolster the Jumbos’ defense. Among the sophomores, Park and midfielder Alexandra Jamison saw plenty of game action in their freshman campaigns and are ready to step up.
But the team will also be reliant on new players to step up and make up for their relative inexperience. The eight freshmen will quickly have opportunities to contribute and get used to the ins and outs of the team’s game plan.
“They are all working really hard, and we’re coming together well,” Cannon said of the freshmen. “As seniors, we are all excited for the new year and being able to help the freshmen learn our system so that we can start moving forward.”
Despite the high expectations for the squad, the Jumbos remain grounded and are determined to approach this season just as they have every other.
“We have all worked really hard this summer, and we plan to go into the season with the same attitude that we’ve had in past years,” Park said.
“This season, we are taking a step-by-step approach by focusing on the aspects of the game that we can control, such as our fundamentals, but also taking pride in our past achievements as a program,” Yogerst added.
Although the Jumbos’ first official game is not until Sept. 7, they will get a chance to rev their engines in a scrimmage against non-conference opponent MIT on Tuesday afternoon. Going into the contest, Tufts hopes to focus on the short term in order to build long-term successes.
“This year there is definitely a lot more pressure on us from winning last year, but our mindset is to take it one practice and one game at a time and work on getting better each and every day,” Cannon said. “For us, the most important game is the next one.”
“As a team, we strive to push ourselves and each other to become better players throughout every practice and every game,” Yogerst said.
“Winning the National Championship places a target on our backs and creates high expectations for this season, which makes it even more important to have a one-game-at-a-time mentality and to not take any opponent lightly.”