A loss for the No. 3 team in the country never sits well. A loss against a school rival hurts that much more. The UConn field hockey team will look to put a shootout loss to Syracuse firmly behind it when it travels to take on No. 17 Liberty with the Big East regular season title on the line.
The Huskies sit atop the conference with a flawless 5-0 record against Big East opponents this season and 13-3 overall. Most recently, the Huskies took down Villanova 7-0 in their ninth shutout of the year and their fourth in conference action. A win on Saturday would mean UConn would clinch at least a share of the regular season conference crown (it still needs to play Georgetown on Nov. 1), accomplishing goal number one for head coach Nancy Stevens’ team.
“Our first goal is to win the regular season [Big East Title] which we can clinch that Saturday against Liberty,” Stevens said. “All our goals are still out there for us, but Liberty is good.”
Senior back Antonia Tiedtke propelled the Huskies to their fifth conference win en route to earning Big East Offensive Player of the Week. The offensive-minded back (.75 assists per game, tenth-best in the nation) and senior captain scored once and assisted on two other goals in the road victory. Tiedtke is the usual inserter for UConn on penalty corners, a play that led to six of the Huskies’ seven goals in the contest. She also helped the defense shut out both opponents on a combined 13 shots as she earned her second conference honor of the season.
Tiedtke and the UConn defense will have their hands full against Liberty, who sits just a game behind the Huskies in the conference standings. Freshman Daniella Rhodes has put together an impressive rookie campaign for the Flames (9-4, 4-1 Big East). The South Africa native leads Liberty in goals (12), assists (7) and shots on goal (77.1%) as she prepares to face one of the nation’s best goalkeepers.
Cheyenne Sprecher’s .872 save percentage is the top mark across Division I field hockey. The redshirt sophomore has shut out nine teams this season in her 16 games and 963 total minutes. She trails only BC’s Sarah Dwyer (.660) in goals against average with a .680 average, but Dwyer has played in half as many games in 2019. She’ll have her hands full against a Liberty squad with four players who have scored double-digit points as they look to dethrone the Huskies from atop the conference standings.
Sprecher’s counterpart for Saturday’s match, Allison Schafer, is a ranked goalkeeper herself. The senior sits seventh in the nation with a .990 goals against average, and her .690 save percentage falls in at No. 47 in the country. A potent UConn offense, led by senior Svea Boker and freshman Sophie Hamilton, will put those numbers to the test. The Huskies average 3.19 goals per game — good enough for ninth in the country — and sit second in the country with an assist average of 3.25 per game. Boker herself is the 18th best scorer in the nation with a .81 scoring average.
Something to be aware of is UConn’s penalty corner success, as they have interchanged from hot and cold in a number of games this year. The Huskies were successful on six corner opportunities against Villanova a week ago but went 0-for-13, including an 0-for-7 mark in overtime, against Syracuse. UConn is the fourth-best team in the nation at inducing penalty corners with 126 (7.88 per game) this season.
Taking a look at the matchup’s history, UConn has a clear advantage. Last year’s 5-3 victory gave the Huskies a perfect 6-0 record against the Flames all-time. The rivalry’s inception dates back to Nov. 15, 2016. A win on Saturday won’t be guaranteed, however, as Liberty holds a strong home-field advantage with a 5-1 record this year.
The Huskies and the Flames are set for a noon start this Saturday, Oct. 26.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @karnold98.