The 2010 Massachusetts field hockey team have a flurry of new faces this season who are trying to make an immediate impact, with only three players entering their senior season.
But, the last time UMass entered the season with only three seniors on the roster, they finished with the Atlantic 10 crown and a birth in the NCAA tournament, a result that this senior class would certainly hope to emulate.
Replacing the three players lost to graduation are 10 freshmen and a junior transfer from South Africa. Along with the new additions, the Minutewomen are returning are nine of last year’s 11 starters, but UMass coach Justine Sowry made it clear that nothing is currently decided.
“The new [players] have been terrific so far,” Sowry said. “We’ve added athleticism, speed, energy and strength and we have tremendous depth this year. We’ll be able to rotate a lot more with all our young legs, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Everyone will get their chance, and the added flexibility will really help us out this year.”
Although much of the team is new, UMass still has veterans at all key positions will help the learning curve of the new players. Looking at the position-by-position breakdown, the veteran presence will certainly be felt, even if there are only three seniors.
When looking at a team’s roster, it only makes sense to start with the most important position, and for the Minutewomen, it also happens to be the most talented. Sowry, a former goalkeeper herself in Australia, took over in 2007 and the position has been the team’s strongest ever since.
This season, Alesha Widdall returns to the net for her third season as the team’s main goalkeeper, and for good reason. Widdall is coming off two consecutive First Team All-Conference nominations and All-American honors in 2008. Widdall also played for the U.S. Junior National team for the past two years, She is only UMass player to do so, and is widely considered to be among the best in the nation at her position.
Sowry says that, Widdall having such experience allows her squad to be a little more aggressive in offensive attacks, knowing their backs are covered.
“[Alesha] is one of the best goalkeepers in the country,” Sowry said. “She’s been practicing a lot this summer and in preseason and the team trusts her behind them. With a quality goalkeeper we can put people up a lot higher on the field, and having Alesha back there really gives the team great confidence.”
Barring any injury, Widdall should be in between the pipes all season. Backing her up will be freshman Kori Huffman, a two-time All-State player from Brattleboro, Vt.
Sowry has focused a great deal on defensive play in her time at the helm, with this season not likely to be any different.
Returning senior Jamie Bourazeris will be the anchor of the line, because of her extensive postseason experience. She displays skills of a quality defenseman and has become the team’s best outlet passer. Many teams will also choose a defensive player to anchor the penalty corner due to their passing skills, and Bourazeris fills this role for UMass. In three seasons with the corner unit, she has tallied 12 goals and 10 assists.
Bourazeris will work with talented newcomers to fill the rest of the defensive lines. South Africa native Thando Zono figures to dazzle opposing coaches and players with her natural skills and instincts for the game. Freshman Hannah Prince has also impressed Sowry with her speed and versatility throughout preseason play.
Also contending for defensive slots are junior Christine Cutry, sophomore Sarah Schlosstein, junior Amanda Dietz, freshman Lauren Hague and last season’s Atlantic 10 conference All-Rookie Callie Sweigart, who will be a redshirt sophomore.
Makaela Potts, two-time All-American who has started and been a captain since her sophomore season will serve as the quarterback of the team. She has shown steady improvement in each of her three years and even became the points leader in 2009 with 10 goals and 11 assists. Potts is another corner unit player and she commands as much action there as she does patrolling the midfield.
In addition to Potts, Nikki Panciocco returns to the midfield from the 2009 squad after a brief stint at halfback. With three assists last year, Sowry only expects her numbers to go up now that she is back in the midfield.
Freshman Marisa Dunn will also be looking to work her way into the rotation in the midfield.
The Minutewomen are fortunate enough to bring back their team captain and biggest scoring threat from 2009 in forward Katie Kelly. Often called the most physical and emotional player on the team, Kelly led her team in goals last year with 11 and added six assists to set a new personal record in points (28).
Kelly played at the United States Field Hockey Association High Performance National Championship this summer and in doing so, gained vital experience playing against the best competitors in the game. She is also the leader of the press attack for UMass and forces turnovers and mismatches.
Another newcomer who is creating a buzz around camp is freshman transfer Melanie Sutherland. She comes to UMass from Seaford College in England where she played for two years. Sowry expects Sutherland to bring with her a natural talent as well as international playing experience that will help the entire team.
“Mel has great endurance,” Sowry said. “She will probably be rotated in a lot to provide fresh legs, and when she’s in we expect her to use her skills and instincts to get a lot of goals for us.”
Rounding out the forwards are sophomores Kara Charochak and Nicole Cordero, who saw plenty of action last season on the front line, as well as freshmen Mika Black, Lindsay Bowman, Alyssa Ineson, Molly MacDonnell and Alexa Sikalis.
It remains to be seen who will be in the everyday starting lineup, but Sowry says she is excited about how the season will play out no matter who it is.
Michael Wood can be reached at email@example.com.