Nineteen regular season games down, 16 victories and a No. 3 national ranking. Now, with the Big East tournament looming next weekend, the real fun begins for the UConn field hockey team.
The Huskies (16-3, 7-0 Big East) had another undefeated weekend, beating Georgetown on Friday and UMass on Sunday at the Sherman Family Sports Complex, scoring five goals in each. With the win over the Hoyas, UConn captured the Big East regular season title outright for the seventh-straight season.
“It’s a standard of excellence that we strive for every year,” head coach Nancy Stevens said on Friday. “When you achieve it, it’s a great feeling and we can only do it with talented players, and we’ve been fortunate to have those.”
Prior to Sunday’s victory over UMass, the program honored its three seniors, Svea Boker, Antonia Tiedtke and Abby Lucas. Boker had a typically busy weekend, notching three goals to bring her season total to 18, the fourth-most in the country.
“It’s honestly an honor to play for UConn field hockey,” Boker said on Sunday, reflecting on her time in Storrs. “Everyone who’s involved in this program is special, and I’ve had the best four years of my life.”
Tiedtke, UConn’s primary penalty corner taker, had an assist in each game, her 15th and 16th of the season. She is now tied with Northwestern’s Kirsten Mansfield for the national lead in assists.
“Everyone is so incredible, it’s been a blast here and it’s so bittersweet that it’s gonna be over,” Tiedtke said after the Senior Day ceremony. “But we’re trying to make it last as long as possible, so I’m excited for the postseason.”
Lucas checked in to a warm ovation in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game with the Huskies holding onto a three-goal lead. With UConn controlling possession, Lucas was not forced to make a save.
“If this was our last game on this field, then we had nothing but positive memories here,” Lucas said. “It was really a special four years.”
If UConn is able to capture a Big East championship next weekend, it would return home as a host in the NCAA tournament. Though the Huskies went undefeated in conference play this season, the team is well aware that nothing is guaranteed, and if this was the seniors’ farewell to Sherman, it sure was a dominant one.
On a bitterly cold Friday night, the Huskies simply outclassed the visiting Hoyas (6-13, 1-6 Big East), a 5-0 shutout. Sophomore Maddy Wray opened the scoring in an otherwise quiet first half, but the floodgates opened after halftime as UConn tacked on four more goals.
Although it was a senior-focused weekend, freshman Sophie Hamilton had a phenomenal weekend, flying around the field and seemingly being in the right place, right time, on every play. She did exactly that in the 34th minute, scoring on a rebound to make it 2-0. With nine seconds remaining in the quarter, sophomore Abby Gooderham made it three, rocketing a shot past the Georgetown goalie off a penalty corner.
“We moved Sophie up to striker for a different look, she was terrific,” Stevens said. “She thinks out of the box, she has a skillset that’s unique and that makes her hard to defend.”
It was the Boker show in the fourth, scoring on a penalty stroke and, just 19 seconds later, slapping a shot through the five-hole to give UConn a commanding 5-0 lead. Sprecher closed out the shutout from there, her 10th of the season. Sprecher currently leads the country by a wide margin in goals allowed average at a miniscule .770.
Sunday’s game against UMass (10-8, 6-2 Atlantic 10) followed a reserves script, as the Huskies shredded the Minutemen defense in the first half before hitting the brakes in the second. UConn finished with an 11-3 advantage in shots on goal and a 5-1 victory on Senior Day.
“We played a lot of reserves [in the second half] to give them experience for the postseason, and we got a dominating win,” Stevens said. “5-1 in our sport is significant domination, so I think we got everything out of the game that we hoped to.”
After two penalty stroke opportunities on Friday, UConn had two in the first quarter alone on Sunday, capitalizing on both to take a 2-0 lead. Boker made it look easy in the fifth minute, and freshman Claire Jandewerth put it in essentially the same spot in the 11th.
The Huskies put up another two-spot in the second quarter to carry a 4-0 lead into the half. Hamilton was once again the catalyst on UConn’s third goal, threading a pretty pass between defenders to Wray for her second goal of the weekend. Freshman Marie Auer joined the scoring festivities with under five in the half, spinning around a defender and firing it into the bottom right corner.
UMass finally broke through early in the third quarter, as senior Sara Davis delivered a perfect chip over Sprecher’s head, the first goal of her collegiate career. UConn would answer in the fourth thanks to a Jandewerth strike, her seventh of the season, on a penalty corner.
It’s now postseason time for the No. 3 Huskies. The Big East tournament begins at Quinnipiac on Friday as top-seeded UConn takes on Providence, who the Huskies beat 3-0 earlier in the season. If UConn advances, it’ll play in the Big East championship on Sunday against the winner of Old Dominion-Liberty. Not only is the program’s 19th Big East tournament title at stake, but also a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, which would mean UConn would host the first two rounds.
“We would much prefer to play at home; we like our field, we like the way it plays,” Stevens said. “But we’ve advanced to the Final Four not as a top-four seed, and we would certainly be prepared to do it again.”
Andrew Morrison is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @asmor24.