With former players spanning nearly four decades, 15 Final Fours and five national championships in attendance, the No. 4 ranked UConn field hockey shut out a pair of ranked opponents to open up its 2019 home slate.
“We gave up goals in California but won, but you’re not going to win championships by giving up goals. Our first priority is to win the conference championship and these last two defensive performances showed us that we’re at where we need to be,” head coach Nancy Stevens said. “We like playing shutout hockey and I thought that Cheyenne [Sprecher] was outstanding the entire weekend… For us to shut both teams down and not allow them to score on their attack corners, it bodes well for us.”
Sprecher, the reigning Big East Defensive Rookie of the Year, was stellar in net. The redshirt sophomore said she relies on “keeping up the same intensity” as a year ago and it showed this weekend. Sprecher not only smothered a combined 11 shots between the two games, but stopped all four penalty corners from Rutgers (2-1) and all five from Harvard (1-1), an area of strength for each opponent.
“I think that we’ve been playing really well together as a team and it’s not just about the defense that’s been holding it down,” Sprecher said on the defense’s performance this weekend.
“It starts all the way from the forwards, to the mids, to the backs, to Cheyenne. It’s a whole team defense we really focus on,” junior back Kourtney Kennedy added.
— UConn Field Hockey (@UConnFHockey) September 8, 2019
The Huskies’ (4-0) home opener went, mostly, as planned on Friday night. With the rain coming down steadily over the course of the night, the first goal did not come until early in the second quarter when freshman Marie Auer rebounded her own shot and found the back of the net the second time around for the third time in as many contests. She added her fourth collegiate goal Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a little bit different. All the things, not only on the field but behind it. It’s pretty hard to get into but I think I’ve managed it pretty well and it’s getting better and better every week, every practice,” Auer, a Germany native, said on the transition to American field hockey. “I came to the team and they’re so nice. People are so nice. I like them very much. I like it here. It’s different but it’s great too.”
Though Auer is receiving a lot of recognition thus far, Stevens wants everyone to know that a lot of work goes into setting up those goals, even if Auer has a knack for scoring. She credits captains Svea Boker, an offensive striker, and Antonia Tiedtke, an offensive-minded back, for being the engines of the offense.
The game remained quiet from there on out until the very end when Sophie Hamiliton notched her first career goal with just seconds remaining in the game. She would add another goal to her resume in Sunday’s matchup with Harvard in what Stevens called a “bounce back” win.
“We didn’t play very well on Friday. We were able to come away with the 2-0 victory and weather had nothing to do with it. It just was not our best performance,” Stevens said. “But a good team is going to rebound from a less-than-optimal performance and fortunately [we] have the resilience to do that.”
On Friday, UConn could not capitalize on a single penalty corner opportunity, going 0-for-5. On Sunday, the Huskies came out and went 2-for-2 to start (2-for-5 overall) on those same opportunities, a credit to associate head coach Paul Caddy for making the required adjustments.
Abby Gooderham put the first score on the board on the first penalty corner of the afternoon. The sophomore was helped out by teammates Maddy Wray and Tiedtke to score her second goal of the year.
Auer’s goal followed roughly 17 minutes later to double the lead. She coralled her own missed shot and fired it back for a goal. The Huskies outshot the Crimson 10-to-9 with a shot on goal advantage 6-to-5.
Hamilton capped off the scoring at 23:32. Off the penalty corner, it looked like Kennedy had scored the goal, with Boker on the assist, but Hamilton was there to deflect the shot right by the goalkeeper for the third and final goal of the day in front of an impressive group of former Huskies in attendance.
Forty-one former players, ranging in graduation classes from the mid-80’s up until the most recent 2017 national championship team were on-hand to watch the newest edition of UConn field hockey take on Harvard Sunday afternoon, leaving a big impression on the 2019 team.
“I mean it’s really cool to see everyone from the past. Nancy talks about playing for the people behind us and it’s not just all about the team present. They’re just as much a part of it as we are,” Kennedy said.
Stevens even felt the change in atmosphere, with such an impressive group of former Huskies in the stands to watch her squad take on a top-ten opponent.
“No pressure, right? We were thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, why are we playing the No. 6 team in the country on Alumni Weekend? Aren’t you supposed to bring in a team you know you’re going to beat?’ We’re thrilled we had such a great performance against a very talented Harvard team that went to the Elite Eight last year, has a lot of international talent and then to be able to win 3-0 on Alumni Day where we were honoring our 15 Final Four teams, our five national championship teams and it just couldn’t have been a better outcome,” Stevens said.
Next time out, the Huskies will hit the road for some stiff competition in Michigan State and Michigan, an Elite Eight team from a year ago. UConn won’t play at the George J. Sherman Family Complex again until Friday September 27, when Old Dominion comes to Storrs.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org