All season long, UConn field hockey head coach Nancy Stevens and her team alike have emphasized the same roadmap: Big East regular season title, then a Big East tournament title and finally an NCAA championship. The first two have been checked off the list, and on Friday, the quest begins for item No. 3.
The Huskies (18-3, 7-0 Big East) are the No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament, one spot behind the defending champs, No. 1 North Carolina. UConn was at No. 3 in the national rankings for most of the second half of the season behind Maryland, though the Terps were stunned by 8-11 Penn State in the Big Ten semifinals, dropping out of a top-four seed.
Friday’s opponent is in-state rival Fairfield (19-2, 6-0 NEC), the Northeast Conference champions who are in the midst of the best season in program history. The Stags lost their season opener and proceeded to win 19 of 20 the rest of the way, their last loss on Sept. 27. Although Fairfield’s strength of schedule doesn’t quite compare to UConn’s 13 ranked opponents, the Stags’ dominance this season has been astounding.
Fairfield has already made history in this year’s tournament, defeating American in the opening round Wednesday for its first NCAA tournament victory in program history. The No. 25 Stags, who have scored 39 of their 54 goals after halftime this season, scored three second-half goals to pull away from No. 23 American in Fairfield.
Allowing just 1.18 goals per game, Fairfield wins games with its defense. As does UConn, leading the country at just .76 goals allowed per game, so it figures to be a scrappy, low-scoring affair Friday.
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Cheyenne Sprecher will therefore play a huge role in UConn’s success Friday. The Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year, no one in the country has been better in goal than Sprecher, posting national-best numbers in goals allowed average and save percentage.
Senior Svea Boker will also be asked to come through in the clutch once again. Boker, the Big East Offensive Player of the Year, had two goals in the conference tournament final last weekend to lead UConn over Old Dominion. Boker’s season goal tally is now up to 20, more than double anyone else on the Huskies’ roster.
It’s a much more balanced attack for Fairfield, as no one player has double-digit goals, but five different players have recorded six goals or more. Juniors Emma Matlach and Danielle Profita are the focal points of the Stags’ offense while junior Zoe Rosen has been superb in net, starting all 21 games with a 1.15 goals-against average.
History sides with UConn, as the Huskies are 10-0 all-time against Fairfield. The most recent meeting came in 2013, a 4-0 UConn victory, a season in which it would go on to win the national championship.
It’s the 18th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for UConn. As a top-four seed, Stevens and company earned the right to host, meaning they’ll play on campus Friday and, should they advance, again Sunday against the winner of Princeton-Syracuse. UConn is familiar with both of those teams this season, defeating then-No. 6 Princeton in overtime but falling to Syracuse in a shootout, the most recent of UConn’s three losses.
The three seniors on the roster—Boker, Antonia Tiedtke and Abby Lucas—already have one national championship to their name, looking to add a second in their final season. The rest of the team hopes to etch their names into the record books while Stevens goes for No. 4. That journey begins Friday at noon at the Sherman Family Sports Complex.
Andrew Morrison is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @asmor24.