A season ago, the Saint Joseph’s field hockey team did something that no Hawk squad had done in over two decades as they claimed the Atlantic 10 regular season championship.

But that was then, and this is now.  This season, not a single member of the Crimson and Gray is resting on her laurels as the Hawks get set to kick off the 2017 season on Friday night at Temple.

As it has been throughout her tenure on Hawk Hill, fourth-year head coach Lynn Farquhar says her team is focused on growth, both individually and as a team.  To that end, the Hawks’ returning core must step up into leadership roles both on and off the field.

“They are passionate, they are incredibly competitive, and they have the desire,” Farquhar said of her squad.  “We need our veterans to be able to lead and communicate on the field in ways they haven’t been asked to as younger players.

“Even our most experienced players aren’t content with their own level of play, which is good for us,” she continued.  “This group works very hard and wants to do well, and we need to figure out how to do well both as an individual journey and, even more importantly, collectively as a team.  The more we can take care of the team as part of our individual journeys toward getting better, the better off we’re going to be.”

With just one senior and three juniors in the fold, contributions will be needed from everyone on the roster, and the opportunity will be there for the team’s new additions to make an impact.  The key is for each Hawk to find her role in the squad and maximize what she brings to it.

“One of the things we talk about is ‘bringing your strength,’” Farquhar said.  “Part of the challenge and the excitement this year is that there is a ton of potential, but we have to figure out how to get that potential moving together in order for it to be effective.”

One of those strengths that the Hawks have in spades is team speed, and nowhere will that be more apparent than on the front line.  Saint Joseph’s returns a dynamic offensive core in junior forward Anna Willocks and sophomore midfielder Pepa Serrano, who were both voted onto the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Team.

Willocks was named a Second Team All-American a year ago after garnering Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year honors and leading the league in goals and points, each for the second consecutive season.  Serrano made a splash as well, pulling in First Team All-Conference accolades while being tabbed the league’s Rookie of the Year and leading the conference in assists.

Joining the All-Region duo will be returning senior Jackalyn Pauling, who tallied career highs in goals, assists, and points last season, and freshman Quinn Maguire, the reigning Delaware County Player of the Year.  Also returning to the attacking fold are sophomores Lydia Bariteau, Corinne Gerber, and two-time A-10 Rookie of the Week Kayla Walker, while freshmen Sara Hayes, Emily Henry, Jordan Olenginski, and Emily Peters are all coming on board for their first collegiate campaigns.

The Hawks have made the transition game a prime focus, and that requires a strong midfield.  Along with Serrano, junior Monica Tice, a 2015 Atlantic 10 Second Team All-Conference and All-Rookie selection, returns from last season’s starting lineup.  Sophomore Courtney Gerber returns to the squad, as does classmate Dana Turner; the group will be joined by freshmen Nicole Kruger and Claire Sylvester as well.

SJU brings back talent and experience in the backfield, as junior Joely Helder and sophomore Kathrin Bentz are defensive stalwarts charged with bringing stability to the team’s defense.  Sophomore Emily Sayre will see time in the backfield as well, while the corps has added freshmen Nicholl Fenton and Kaitlin McCauley to its ranks.

The last line of defense is in the cage, and the Hawks are in good hands with 2016 All-Rookie honoree Victoria Kammerinke back for her sophomore season.  Freshman Isabelle Boles has joined the squad as well, providing the Hawks with a pair of talented goalkeepers.

This year’s squad faces perhaps the most challenging schedule they’ve faced in recent years with non-conference tilts against defending national champion and third-ranked Delaware, sixth-ranked Maryland, and 19th-ranked James Madison.  The Hawks will also face local rivals Temple, Villanova, and Drexel in the early season, meaning that the squad will be battle-tested when it enters conference play.

“We are playing the most difficult schedule we’ve played,” Farquhar said.  “We have a reigning national champion coming [to Ellen Ryan Field].  We have a number local matchups as well, and those are always tough.”

The conference slate features home games with Saint Louis, Lock Haven, Saint Francis, and Davidson, while the Hawks will visit VCU, Richmond, La Salle, and preseason favorite Massachusetts.

“In the Atlantic 10, you have to perform every time out,” Farquhar said.  “We have a very competitive conference, and there aren’t any easy games.  Only four teams make the postseason, so it’s important to go out and perform every game.”

The Minutewomen will host the Atlantic 10 Championship November 3 and 4 at the Gladchuk Sports Complex in Amherst.

The campaign begins on Friday night when the Hawks visit the Owls at 6:00 p.m. at Howarth Field.  Then it’s off to College Park to take on Maryland at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.