Field Hockey Set to Open 2012 Season on Friday
Aug. 22, 2012
MERION STATION, Pa. - In 2011, a new era of Saint Joseph's field hockey began with the opening of the brand new, state-of-the-art pitch at Ellen Ryan Field. One year after returning to campus for the first time in nearly four years, the Hawks are looking to make another return in 2012 as SJU aims for a berth in the Atlantic 10 Championship after near-misses in each of the past two seasons.
Head coach Michelle Finegan, in her 16th season on the Saint Joseph's sideline, feels that she has a team capable of returning the Hawk program to its winning ways.
"We have recruited strong players, we have our own field that allows us to have more sessions to improve our skill level, and we have a really tight team," Finegan said.
These traits will go a long way towards helping the Hawks reach their ultimate goal. The foundation is in place, and Finegan knows what her charges need to do in order to build on it and return to the upper echelon of the Atlantic 10.
"We have to play well against some of the top teams," she explained. "Last season, we lost two games in overtime; we need to win those games."
This season, the Hawks will be able to take full advantage of their new facility at Ellen Ryan Field. Equipped with a top-of-the-line synthetic AstroTurf12 surface, water cannons, an irrigation drainage system, and bleacher seating for 200 spectators, the field will provide the Hawks with increased practice flexibility and a noticeable home pitch advantage.
"It's one of the top facilities in the area," Finegan said. "Being able to practice on the wet turf allows us to adjust to the pace of the game. When you can practice at game speed, you will play better."
Joining Finegan on the sideline during those practices and games for a second season is assistant coach Jessica Javelet. This summer, the former All-American became the first full-time assistant coach in the program's history.
"Jessica is the first full-time assistant the program has ever had," Finegan said. "We now have a staff that's well-seasoned and experienced...the team is getting a lot of help, and it will make us stronger.
Former Wake Forest standout Chelsea Cipriani joins the staff this season as well; having won a national championship with the Demon Deacons in 2004, she adds to the wealth of knowledge and experience available to the Hawk players.
"Chelsea has an incredible shot, and she's been helping our offensive players expand their skill sets," Finegan said. "She's also been helping our goalkeepers learn to save different types of shots."
"They're very authentic leaders," Finegan said of her captains. "They're down-to-earth and hard-working. They generate enthusiasm, and they're encouraging and supportive. They're really strong leaders, and I think that will benefit our team.
"They're going to be in a situation where there are a lot of young players on the field," she continued. "However, those young players are going to be comfortable because of the atmosphere that they've created."
Deininger will be one of Finegan's midfield leaders this season, having started all 16 games she played last season, while Hoover will hold down the fort in the defensive backfield.
Fellow seniors Jordan Cotter and Meghan Githens will be counted on as well to provide a steady, guiding hand. After battling injuries last season, Cotter is primed to contribute as a part of the attacking corps, while Githens will look to build on her strong junior campaign as she moves into a starting role in the Hawk midfield.
Finegan has plenty of young offensive firepower at her disposal, starting with 2011 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie honoree Jordan Martin. Martin tallied six goals and 14 points during her freshman season, and will be relied upon to produce at a similar rate in 2012.
Incoming freshmen Rachael Brosious and Aniek Koman are talented players that will see a large chunk of playing time on the front line. Brosious comes to Hawk Hill from nearby Archbishop Carroll High School, while Koman continues the tradition of Hawk imports from the Netherlands.
After spending her initial years in the Crimson and Gray primarily as a midfielder, Cotter will move up to the forward ranks for her senior season. Also in that group are sophomores Gina Brown, Megan DeMarco, Moira Penza, and Tori Popinko, and freshman Sarah Yerk.
Deininger and Githens will be the experienced, steady hands in the engine room of the Hawk midfield this season. Also dropping back after playing predominantly in a forward position last season will be sophomore Nicole Gerdes. Gerdes notched three goals and eight points and earned an Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honor as a freshman, and will look to build on a season in which she started every game for the Hawks.
As important as it is to score goals, keeping the opposition off the scoreboard is an equally critical task, and this year's backline has a unique blend of youth and experience. Hoover has led the squad in defensive saves in each of the past two seasons, starting 34 games over that stretch, and will be the defensive stalwart that every competitive team relies on.
Joining the senior captain in the backfield will be juniors Sara Kolobielski and Shannon McNeill. Kolobielski started all 17 games last season after redshirting her freshman year, while McNeill has appeared in 27 games over the first two years of her career.
Sophomore Katie Walsh and freshman Eva Gekas will also see significant playing time on the defensive end. Walsh made a pair of starts as a freshman, while Gekas has had a strong preseason camp and will contend for a starting spot.
Junior Kate Mitchell will get the starting nod in the cage as the last line of defense for the Hawks this season. Mitchell redshirted as a freshman before receiving playing time last season and she has played well in the preseason in earning the starting gig.
Freshman Maddie Wagenfeld brings a bundle of talent to the position and could see playing time as well.
The squad will face a new and improved Atlantic 10 this season as Virginia Commonwealth University joins the league in all sports. While the Rams will be playing their first season in the conference, their ready-made rivals across town, Richmond, have been selected as the favorites to take the league crown in 2012.
Perennial power Massachusetts was tabbed for second, while Saint Joseph's own crosstown rival, Temple, was voted third in the Owls final season in the Atlantic 10. VCU earned the fourth spot in the preseason poll.
The Hawks will play three of those four teams on the road, meaning home matchups with La Salle and Lock Haven and a road tilt at Saint Louis will take on an even greater importance.
The Hawks kick off the season with three straight home games against Liberty, Drexel, and Hofstra. After a pair of road contests at Delaware and Fairfield, SJU returns to Ellen Ryan Field for a two-week, five-game, homestand featuring games against Quinnipiac, Siena, Monmouth, Colgate, and Ohio University.
After that stretch, SJU will head to the University of Virginia for a game with the Cavaliers, a perennial national contender. The Hawks will close out the non-conference slate with a home game against Villanova.
Conference play begins with a game at Saint Louis followed by home tilts with Lock Haven and La Salle. The Hawks will then spend each of the next two weekends in Richmond, Virginia, taking on the University of Richmond and VCU, respectively, with a home game against Massachusetts sandwiched in between.
Saint Joseph's will wrap up its regular season at Temple on October 28.
"Our schedule is a bit of a challenge, but we're ready and looking forward to it," Finegan said.
This season, the Atlantic 10 Field Hockey Championship will be held in Amherst, Massachusetts. The Hawks hope to be there once again, competing for a league championship. With solid leadership both on the field and on the sidelines, an influx of young talent, and a new home field to bring it all together, 2012 could be a banner year for the Saint Joseph's field hockey program.