From the beautiful weather to a long Labor Day weekend and getting back into the swing of things, there was a lot of positive energy in the entire state of Connecticut this weekend. Despite the happy feelings on campus, the UConn women’s field hockey team was not feeling the same love, enduring two heartbreaking defeats to Rutgers and Harvard.
Undoubtedly, Husky fans were feeling robbed after losing Friday’s contest to Rutgers. There are no ties in field hockey, meaning the game was forced into a shootout to decide the winner. With the game tied 1-1 all the way up to double-overtime, Rutgers would be the last team standing. Despite this tough loss, the UConn women played fantastic. Their defense was impeccable, as goalkeeper Natalie McKenna gave up one goal in regular time, adding on eight saves and four more during the penalty shootout.
Despite the team’s offensive woes, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. The Huskies had plenty of offensive opportunities, receiving nine corners and getting a whopping 21 shots off. Despite shooting the ball over 20 times, only 10 were on goal and the Huskies played against a world-class level goalie in Sophia Howard. Howard has conceded just two goals in four contests, a testament to her ability to overwhelm an opposing offense. In spite of the Huskies’ loss, they displayed an excellent defense. UConn’s defense was arguably better than Rutgers on Friday, as they gave up fewer shots, fewer penalty corners and fewer shots on goal. They even knotted the contest at one for two overtime periods, truly spectacular field hockey! Huskies fans have much to be proud of and look forward to in this young season.
Saturday’s contest against Harvard was just as close as UConn’s Friday match with Rutgers, as they faced a similar fate, losing 3-2 in an overtime thriller that could have gone either way. The initial offensive output for both teams was unusually quiet in the first half, with neither side finding the back of the net. Harvard’s Lucy Leel drew first blood for her side in the third quarter at the 33rd minute. This goal was the spark that finally got Connecticut’s offense going, as less than a minute and a half later, Julia Bressler leveled the contest. Undoubtedly, the UConn Women’s downfall was their defense, as less than two minutes from tying the contest, they gave Cambridge their second score of the contest.
It would be a quiet fourth quarter for both sides, especially for the Huskies, as they only had one shot off all quarter long, a testament to the skill of the Harvard defense and the lack of opportunities Connecticut had. The action would resume in overtime with Harvard’s Marie Schaefers getting a sensational buzzer-beater goal that stunned all the fans, players and coaches. Time ran out before UConn could do anything, and this loss will undoubtedly stick in the back of Connecticut’s minds. If they held on for just a moment longer, they could have gone to another overtime period and tried their luck there.
The Huskies will have some growing pains with all their close finishes in this young season. Their 1-3 record is not indicative of their ability to compete, as most experts see Rutgers and Harvard as the most challenging teams they will compete against all season long, and this team has only improved since last season, as Connecticut was the No. 15 team in the nation coming into this weekend. On Friday, it was UConn’s offense that let them down, and on Sunday, it was their defense that did them in. Undoubtedly, if this group wants a realistic chance at a Big East title, they need to play both ends of the pitch well, since no squad will breed success with a one-sided team. On the bright side, Connecticut has 14 more games to play, and a 1-3 record is recoverable, as Rutgers and Harvard, arguably, are as talented as any team in the country.
It should also be noted that the final scores did not reflect all that went well for the women: they played their hearts out, dragged the fight on as long as they could keep standing and played to the final whistle. The talents of both ends for Connecticut were on display, just on different days. Don’t be surprised if Connecticut looks to make a statement in their next road trip, first stopping by Ithaca, N.Y., on Sept. 8 to visit Cornell University. On that Saturday, they will visit Syracuse to conclude their short road trip.