As the saying goes, there’s no place like the George J. Sherman Family Sports Complex. Right? Well it seemed that way when the No. 3 UConn field hockey team shutout Big East rival Providence College and No. 10 Delaware, both by a score of 3-0.
After being on the receiving end of a shutout at the hands of the No. 4 Maryland Terrapins a week ago, head coach Nancy Stevens said Friday’s win over Providence was a good way to bounce back.
“Yeah, you have to rebound from that because that’s disappointing,” Stevens said. “This was a really good effort. Shutout, super important going forward. We just have to have sound defense. That’s how you win championships. First, let’s try to win a conference championship, but that defensive effort speaks well of our defensive work that we’ve been doing.”
Cheyenne Sprecher anchors the defense as the Huskies’ (12-2, 4-0 Big East) goaltender and impressed in both games. The redshirt sophomore made eight saves Friday night with five coming in the game’s final quarter. With another four saves on Sunday and her eighth shutout, Sprecher should be the front-runner for the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honors.
On the offensive side, it was a trio of underclassmen that carried the load. Sophomore Maddy Wray and freshmen Sophie Hamilton and Erica Solomen, all of whom are midfielders, found the back of the net via backhand shots.
Wray’s goal was the only one of the first half and her first after missing the last three games with an injury. Hamilton scored her seventh goal on the season at almost 11 minutes in the second half while Solomen’s goal was a late game dagger (52:42) and the first of her collegiate career. The Huskies lead in shots 19-13 and 9-8 in shots on net.
The all-around effort from the Huskies cemented their 17th consecutive win over the Friars (8-4, 2-2 Big East) as they improve to 38-8 all time. Friday’s win also marked UConn’s 36th-consecutive win over a conference opponent, but Stevens says that’s not the streak the team pays too much attention to.
“We don’t think about that because what’s important is we’re trying to win the regular season title first and foremost,” Stevens said. “So we just need a streak of seven … That’s the streak we care about.”
Sunday’s matinee with the Blue Hens from Delaware (8-3, 1-0 CAA) brought a playoff atmosphere to Storrs as Stevens could only describe it in one way.
“What you saw was a battle. And it really felt like a postseason type of game where everything is on the line.”
In an intense battle like Sunday’s, you rely on your captain and senior captain Svea Boker did not disappoint.
With a mostly back-and-forth first quarter, Boker opened up the scoring at the 13:18 mark in what Stevens called a “world class” play. She took a sharp pass from Vivienne Tucker along the farside of the field, drove up and around the corner and chipped the ball over the goalkeeper as she came out to make a play on the ball.
“It’s good to start out strong and we’ve struggled in the past having a good first quarter so I think it was a good time to score,” Boker said on her goal. “It just pushed our team forward and we kept pressing them so that was really good.”
After an 0-for-6 showing on penalty corners in Friday’s game and an 0-for-9 over the last two, Sunday’s perfect 2-for-2 mark was a welcomed change to UConn’s execution.
The first came in the second quarter. Antonia Tiedtke passed the ball in, as she usually does on penalty corners, to Boker who teed it up for Claire Jandewerth. The freshman’s shot snuck by the goaltender’s right side for her second career score.
Kourtney Kennedy, a defender, was the beneficiary of missed tip. The penalty corner play, as Stevens described, is designed for Kennedy to put the ball on net and for a teammate to tip it in. If the tip is not there, which it wasn’t on Sunday, the shot should go in. And it did, giving Kennedy her second goal of the year at 47:25.
UConn held an 11-8 advantage in shots and a 7-4 mark on shots on net. The Huskies defense held the Blue Hens scoreless while not allowing a shot on goal in the final frame, proving to Stevens that her squad is ready for the postseason.
“That’s the focus is the shutout because if you can shutout a top-10 team with the talent they have, that really speaks to a stout defense,” Stevens said. “Again, you’re not going to win any championships if you have a leaky defense so we’re actually postseason ready at this point in the season and we’re excited about that.”
The playoff atmosphere brought a chippiness out of the opposing squads. Boker spent a chunk of time on the bench between a first half green card and a second half yellow card. Delaware’s Milan Spooren was also issued a green card.
“If the other team is going to bring it and you don’t bring it, you’re going to get run over,” Stevens said. “So we have to play with a backbone and if you get a card or two, that’s part of the dance.”
Well, the Huskies showed up, they danced the dance and moved another step closer to their first goal: Win the regular season conference title. Next up, UConn will travel to Villanova for a Friday night matchup with the Wildcats on Oct. 18.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @karnold98.