The No. 4 ranked UConn field hockey team embarks on its quest for a fourth NCAA title in seven years this weekend when the Huskies face off against fellow top-25 ranked teams No. 15 Northwestern and No. 21 Stanford to open the 2019 season.
With the all-time winningest coach in Division I field hockey at the helm, Nancy Stevens’ squad will look to improve on last year’s impressive 19-4 campaign that captured the program’s sixth-consecutive Big East regular season title and seventh-straight conference tournament title. They fell just short of another banner, falling to Maryland, the eventual champions, 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the program’s 18th-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
“We look forward to opening the season at Stanford University and will be playing five nationally ranked teams in our first five games,” Stevens said earlier this summer. “We believe our team is up for the challenge as we work to blend our experienced players with several talented first year players. We are excited to tackle one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country before chasing another Big East championship and NCAA bid.”
As Stevens alluded to, there are some new faces on this year’s team (13 freshmen), along with plenty of returning veterans. The Huskies will not have to look too far to replace former captain Amanda Collins and last year’s Big East Defensive Player of the Year Cecille Pieper, two of the top three scorers from a season ago. Amongst the eight returning starters, senior Svea Boker and sophomore Abby Gooderham combined for over 61 percent of the Huskies’ offense in 2018.
In net, UConn returns one of the top goalkeepers in the nation in Cheyenne Sprecher. As a redshirt-freshman, Sprecher took home conference Freshman of the Year honors while allowing just 1.28 goals per game and stopping 75 percent of shots on net. Sprecher, along with Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Svea Boker, sophomore Lindsay Dickinson, senior Antonia Tiedtke and junior Jessica Demobrowski on the preseason All-Big East team. The Huskies were picked to win the conference for the tenth-consecutive year.
UConn’s first opponent of the weekend, Northwestern, is a familiar one. Led by UConn field hockey alum Tracey Fuchs (1984-87), the Wildcats suffered a 2-1 loss to the Huskies early last season, finishing the year with a 9-10 record and a first round exit in the conference tournament. Northwestern is returning 13 players from a year ago, including redshirt senior Kristen Mansfield and junior Lakin Barry. Mansfield, known for abilities on the defensive side, led the team in assists (13) while Barry notched half a dozen goals while logging the second-most minutes.
Fuchs is a UConn field hockey legend. While a student-athlete in Storrs, she was a three-time All-American, a two-time Honda Broderick Award finalist (awarded to the best player in the country), winning the award in 1987. Fuchs was named to the all-tournament team after helping the Huskies capture the 1985 NCAA title and graduated with seven scoring records in her name.
Playing host for the weekend, Stanford enters 2019 with a lot of confidence after an impressive 2018 campaign where they finished 14-6. Though they lost in the American East conference tournament semifinals to Maine, the Cardinals are returning quite a bit of firepower and are tabbed as the favorites to win the conference for the fourth time in five seasons. Last year’s conference Offensive Player of the Year Corinne Zanolli returns with 41 career goals in two seasons, along with 2016 All-American and Co-Goalkeeper of the Year a season ago Kelsey Bing. The conference’s Rookie of the Year, Molly Redgrove, also returns after putting up six goals and five assists on 31 shots as a freshman.
Northwestern gets the first crack at the 2019 Huskies when the two sides meet on Saturday before Stanford tries to avoid a repeat of last season’s 3-0 loss to UConn on Sunday afternoon. Both games will start at 2 p.m.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.