By Justin Loring, Sports editor
Getting off to a good start is a hard thing for teams to do. For the No. 18 UNH field hockey team, it hasn’t been smooth sailing so far, but head coach Robin Balducci knows her team is ready to change that.
“The attitude/atmosphere around the team has been more frustration because we’ve been putting together halves, we haven’t been putting together full games,” Balducci said. “The first five or six [games], we were struggling [with] starting a game … but against Providence, we finally had a great first half.”
The Wildcats have stumbled to a 2-6 start, but their strength of schedule keeps them inside the Top 25 ranks. UNH has faced five Top-25 teams, including No. 2 defending national champion UConn and No. 7 Stanford. UNH is fresh off a 7-1 drubbing of Hofstra, a team with a 7-1 record heading into the match-up.
“I was very happy with our play against Louisville, Indiana, Stanford, Connecticut,” Balducci said. “Really good [offense], but not from the 30 [yard box] and in. It’s comparable to a football team having 75 percent possession time, but only 25 percent scoring in the red zone.
Junior forward Meg Flatley scored four goals on five shots against Hofstra, earning herself America East Player of the Week honors. Flatley jumped into first place on the team in both goals (7) and points (16). Despite Flatley’s dominating play of late, coach Balducci knows her team needs to be more well-rounded on the offensive end.
“Meg Flatley is force,” Balducci said. “If you have one force in the run of play, teams can neutralize that. Our corners should be a strength, but we haven’t been executing them consistently.
“When the defense focused on Flatley, we were able to generate more attack with our middies against Providence and certainly Lindsey Nerbonne is going to be a key element to that.”
On Friday, UNH will take on Miami (Ohio), with the most recent match up coming in 2006. The RedHawks enter the match up with a record of 2-7, but have taken on six Top-25 squads, including No. 11 Syracuse, No. 9 Maryland and No. 1 North Carolina.
The RedHawks are lead in scoring by Valentina Neira, a senior midfielder/forward. The Argentinian has tallied 12 points (5g, 2a) this season, and was second on the team last year in points (18). Alysa Xavier has played eight of the team’s nine games so far this year, posting a .692 save percentage and a 3.84 goals against average.
“They’re very controlled, very poised,” Balducci said. “They have a few international players with a certain savvy to their play, they’re strong and are going to be solid. They’re well-coached tactically, their corners are dangerous and you’re not going to see anything crazy out of them.”
After Miami, UNH will travel to Chesnut Hill to face the Boston College Eagles. BC currently sits at No. 6 in the nation with a 7-1 record. The Eagles boast a very balanced attack, with 10 players tallying at least two points this year. Led by Brittany Sheenan (12 points) and Emma Plasteras (10 points), the Eagles are averaging 19.0 shots per game. Netminder Leah Settipane holds an impressive GAA of 1.52 and .764 save percentage.
If the BC-UNH rivalry wasn’t enough of a storyline for this weekend, a pair of siblings will be facing off against each other. UNH’s Ashley Mendonca will go against her twin sister, Chelcie, who plays for the Eagles.
Coach Balducci recognized the importance of trying to string together consecutive wins this weekend, but was reluctant to consider both games “must-wins”.
“I don’t think you can look at Boston College and say it’s a ‘must-win’. Boston College is very, very good … player-for-player, they’re as good a team as we will have faced to this point. I think we’re looking at the weekend for how we play and we can play with BC if we play well.
“In all honesty, I know it’s a cliché, but we are talking about how we play. We’re not doing things because of our opponent, we’re settling into how we read the game and how we play the game with our strength.”