Oct. 11, 2011
by Joe Greenwich
MERION STATION, Pa. - There is an old axiom that declares, "Home is where the heart is." Unfortunately for the Saint Joseph's field hockey team, "home" isn't always where their home games were.
On September 24, 2011, after three years, 10 months, and 21 days without an on-campus home field, the Hawks opened up the new Ellen Ryan Field with a game against Delaware. In front of an overflow crowd on City Avenue, the Hawks put on an offensive show in the second half. And while the result didn't go their way in a 5-4 loss, the feeling of excitement was palpable.
"It's absolutely perfect," gushed senior captain Rachel Walsh. "It's a two-minute walk from our locker room, and that's not what we're used to."
"It's great to have the seniors be able to play here for their last year," added redshirt freshman goalkeeper Kate Mitchell. "It wasn't for the whole season, but we're on it now and it's great just to have it."
Ryan Field features a synthetic AstroTurf12 surface, one of the most popular surfaces in the game today. The facility is also equipped with an irrigation drainage system, state-of-the-art water cannons designed to give the surface a more consistent feel, a mobile press box, and bleacher seating for up to 200 spectators.
A lot more than 200 showed up on opening day.
"The fan support was great," said Michelle Finegan, currently in her 15th season as SJU's head field hockey coach. "When we scored some goals and they started chanting...it was awesome."
"There were members of multiple [Saint Joseph's varsity] teams at the game," said freshman forward Jordan Martin, who scored a pair of goals in the game. "Everyone was cheering and it was a big pump-up for us."
"We created a Facebook event, and 200-plus people said they were going to come to the game," Walsh revealed. "I mean, obviously there's only 11 of us on the field, but when you have over 200 people behind you, that's a big push."
"It was a great feeling, seeing all the fans there," said senior Theresa Testa, whose second half tally gave her the distinction of being the first player to score a goal at Ryan Field.
The atmosphere for the team's return to campus was in stark opposition to what the players were used to. For the past three-plus seasons, drawing a crowd was a bit more difficult as the Hawks plied their trade all across the Delaware Valley, playing a majority of their home games at Drexel University's Buckley Field. SJU also played a handful of games at Temple University's Geasey Field, and even hosted a contest at Vonnie Gros Field on the campus of West Chester University.
"It's nice to just have people there cheering you on and hearing the cheers from the crowd," said Mitchell. "At Drexel it was a lot more quiet. Just to have all that energy...the stands get fired up, we get fired up."
Martin certainly felt a difference.
"There were some parents there [for the games at Drexel], but it was hard to really feel the support of the University community, and that's what we felt on Saturday."
In addition to increased and more vociferous crowd support, the Hawks will enjoy other tangible benefits from having their own home turf.
For the first time since 2007, Finegan can point to an on-campus facility when out on recruiting trips.
"We didn't have a facility in past years to say, `Look, here's a field on campus, all the students come and watch you,'" said Walsh. "Other teams have fields on campus, so it can be rough [trying to compete for recruits]."
In addition to the ability to bring in talented student-athletes, the field also helps the current iteration of the Hawk squad as well.
"From a practice standpoint, we can have a full three hours of practice and not have to work around other teams' schedules," said Mitchell. "We can practice when we want to."
"We're happy to have our home field," Finegan said. "It's going to make a huge difference in everybody's performance. We're psyched."
For the seniors who've played for three-plus seasons with the promise of a new home field, this day could not have come soon enough. For the freshmen eager to be a part of a new era of Hawk field hockey, this day was part of the reason they came to Hawk Hill. For everyone in between, Saturday, September 24, 2011 was circled on the calendar in bright red ink.
Testa summed everything up in six words; words that no doubt bring a smile to the face of every young woman on the team.
"We have our own home now," she said, beaming with pride.
The Crimson and Gray's vagabond days are over. For this team, "home" is no longer just where the heart is.
After 1,424 days, it's also where the games are.