Nancy Stevens’ brand of field hockey is simple: Prevent the other team from scoring goals. While it helps to have a star forward like Svea Boker on the other end, UConn has perfected the art of the shutout.
That style of play was on full display this weekend, as the UConn field hockey team increased its season shutout total to eight with a pair of victories this weekend in which the Huskies did not allow a goal.
“Really, the focus is the shutout,” Stevens said on Sunday. “If you can shutout a top-10 team, with the talent they have, that really speaks to a stout defense. You’re not going to win any championships with a leaky defense, so we’re actually postseason-ready at this point in the season, and we’re excited about that.”
UConn (12-2, 4-0 Big East) followed up Friday’s 3-0 victory over conference foe Providence by blanking the No. 10 team in the country, Delaware, 3-0 on Sunday. The Huskies are now tied with No. 11 Michigan for the most shutouts in the country at eight.
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Cheyenne Sprecher has been responsible for all eight of those, proving why she was the Big East Freshman of the Year a season ago. Sprecher made eight saves in Friday’s win, including five in the fourth quarter alone.
On Sunday, the defense was far tighter, allowing just four shots on goal all game. Sprecher made a couple of spectacular saves, but much of the hard work came from the defense in front of her, especially senior Antonia Tiedtke and junior Kourtney Kennedy, who also added a goal.
“What we’re trying to do is address the issues outside of the circle,” Stevens said. “I thought we did a much better job of solving problems earlier and higher on the field. But then when we needed Cheyenne, she was there … The way Delaware plays is to create chaos in the circle, and I thought Cheyenne managed that really well.”
The Huskies have allowed one goal or less in 10 of 14 games this season, and have allowed more than two goals just once, a 2-3 loss to Michigan. If they score three goals as they did both games this weekend, that’s a recipe for success.
Six different players scored for UConn this weekend, including freshman Erica Solomen, who notched the first goal of her collegiate career on Friday. While Stevens emphasizes defense over scoring, it doesn’t hurt to have one of the best striker in the country in Svea Boker.
As she does often for this team, Boker took matters into her own hands on Sunday, singlehandedly beating her defender around the edge and lifting it over the oncoming goalie for her team-leading 12th goal of the season. That goal gave UConn an early 1-0 lead that it would never surrender.
“Svea’s goal was world-class,” Stevens said with a wide grin. “She’s coming at the goalie, the goalie comes out in a slide and she just puts it up and over her? C’mon.”
Boker picked up a green card in the first quarter and a yellow in the third in what was a game full of whistles and stoppages. Both teams seemed frustrated by the officiating throughout the game, and it was as rough and physical a game as UConn has played all season.
“[Boker] is so, so talented, and she brings the fight. She got two cards but it was that kind of game,” Stevens said. “If the other team is going to bring it, and you don’t bring it, you’re going to get run over. We have to play with a backbone, and if you get a card or two, that’s part of the dance.”
After the game, Boker admitted that she let her emotions get the best of her but praised her team’s ability to push through the frustration.
“It’s always hard to deal with the umpiring,” Boker said. “I mean, it’s really hard to umpire, I give a lot of credit to them. But especially me, I get upset. As a team, you just gotta keep playing, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Ultimately, the Friars and Blue Hens were the more frustrated ones, as it’s just the second time all season that Delaware has been blanked. The Huskies will look to continue to shut down opponents as they head into the home stretch of the regular season.
Andrew Morrison is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @asmor24.