Aug. 27, 2005
PHILADELPHIA - Fresh off its most successful season in a decade and posessing among the highest scoring offenses in the East, the Saint Joseph's University field hockey team has its sights set on an Atlantic 10 Conference title and first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in 2005.
All-Mid-Atlantic Region pick junior Nicole Antonini leads a list of 15 returning letterwinners, including nine starters, who give SJU its best shot at a league title since the Hawks last staked a claim to the hardware in 1995, the final season of Michelle Finegan's first stint as head coach.
Equally adept at finding the back of the cage or setting up her teammates, Antonini serves as the ringleader of SJU's high-powered offense. The two-time All-League choice could become just the third SJU player to capture All-America honors if she comes close to matching her prolific 2004 season. She delivered the third highest single season scoring total in program history as a sophomore, ranking among the national leaders with 15 goals, a school record 15 assists and 45 points.
A two-time All-Philadelphia field hockey selection, O'Brien garnered All-Atlantic 10 honors as a junior. With a deft touch and strong presence in front of the cage, she finished eighth in the A-10 in scoring with 16 points. She matched a school record with four goals in a win over Robert Morris.
The feisty Luft comes off a breakout season in which she finished second on the team and fifth in the A-10 in scoring with 23 points (9 G, 5 A). Possessing speed to move past defenders and a nose for the goal, her offensive outburst earned her All-Atlantic 10 honors, in addition to being tabbed to the Conference's All-Championship team.
Casserly had a solid season after transferring to Hawk Hill from Ohio University, but is expected to have an even bigger impact this year. A high-energy player, she netted three goals and three assists as a sophomore.
In addition to this quartet, the Hawks have the luxury of bringing several veterans off the bench, including junior Maryann Reis and sophomore Theresa Barbati. Reis is a solid stick handler. Barbati has good size on the front line.
While the Hawks high-scoring offense receives much of the publicity, the team's underrated defense anchored by senior co-captain Hilary Moody and sophomore goaltender Rebecca Cunfer ranks as one of the team's strengths.
Already a steady defender, Moody has developed into a legitimate scoring threat on corner situations. Possessing a big drive, the Hawks' center back placed fourth on the team in scoring with five goals and 11 points. An adept stick-handler she also ranked among the national leaders with six defensive saves.
Cunfer followed in Antonini's footsteps and was named the 2004 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. The first-year netminder turned in one of the best seasons in school history, finishing second in the A-10 and 19th nationally with a 1.41 goals against average. She also registered six shutouts on the season, the most by a Hawk freshman since 1985.
Junior Charlie Agro, who has been slowed by injuries throughout her career, possesses the ability to become a key contributor on the backline, as well as a heavy hit that could be a weapon on corners. SJU has added depth throughout the lineup with the return of sophomore Brianne Miller.
Additional reasons for the team's success can be derived from the play of senior midfielders Shelley Meier, Jackie Aronchick and Emily Mannion. A starter throughout much of her career, Meier has great quickness and stickhandling ability on the wing. Aronchick, who transferred to SJU from Lafayette prior to the 2004 season, serves as a strong vocal presence in the middle. Mannion started three of SJU's first four games as a junior, before being sidelined by injury.
Two sophomores, who started nearly every game as rookies, Brooke Henry and Katie Young will also play significant roles in the midfield. Henry, serves as a sparkplug with her constant activity, and may assume the role of the team's Link out of the back. Young played on the wing defensively as a freshman, but is expected to move forward to take advantage of her superior stick handling ability.
After posting 11 wins in 2004 with a youthful lineup, expectations for the Saint Joseph's field hockey team are sky-high. Possessing a high-powered attack and an underrated defense, a run at the Conference crown and an NCAA Tournament berth are legitimate goals for the Hawks in 2005.