By Justin Loring, Sports Editor
Time might be running out for the UNH field hockey team. After struggling to a 2-8 record, the Wildcats finally have a chance to get an edge in the America East conference when they travel to Fairfield University on Friday. The Stags are currently 4-7 on the season, although have not played nearly as strong a schedule as the Wildcats. The only shared opponent Fairfield has faced came in the form of a 3-0 loss to Drexel, a team UNH beat 1-0.
The last two seasons, UNH has eliminated Fairfield from the America East tournament, with both wins coming at Memorial Field.
After Fairfield, UNH will travel to Piscataway, N.J. to take on No. 22-ranked Rutgers University. The newest member of the Big Ten currently sits at the bottom of the conference with a record of 4-5 (0-3 Big Ten).
UNH is coming off a tough weekend, having lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Miami (Ohio) on Friday, Sept. 27. The Wildcats took a 2-1 lead just six minutes into the second half off the stick of Gianna Bensaia, her second of the day. The lead was held late into the game, until the RedHawks’ Valentina Neira tied it up with 3:45 left on the clock. UNH sustained a possession in the ensuing overtime, but Bea Dechant scored on a falling backhand shot that beat goalkeeper Carlie Tarbell to the right post.
“I think we’re finally balancing [our offense],” head coach Robin Balducci said. “We needed to have variety … we’ve slowed the ball down, we’ve kicked the ball around [the defense], but we’ve also pushed it up and run a fast break offense.”
Bensaia was named America East Rookie of the Week following her two-goal performance against Miami. The redshirt freshman tallied her first career goal in the game and also recorded her first career point the week before with an assist against Hofstra.
Bensaia is the second player for the Wildcats to score multiple goals in one game, with Meg Flatley scoring four on Sep. 21 against Hofstra.
“There was a real good balance in the last couple of games,” Balducci said. “We have to remember that last year we started 1-5, and we were able to settle in. The challenge with building a schedule like this is asking ‘Is the team strong enough, leadership-wise and mentally, to weather it.”
Last week, UNH was ranked as high as No. 18 in the nation, but have since slipped to No. 33 in the RPI rankings. UNH’s strength of schedule, six games against ranked opponents, has been one of the hardest in the NCAA.
“[The strength of schedule] will help us in October, they have to have the confidence that there’s a purpose for it,” Balducci said. “It may not always be a ‘W’, but we’re going to draw on remembering, ‘This is what we have to do’.
You hope that the confidence is built, even though it seems like it wouldn’t be from losing, but the confidence should be that you’re playing at a certain level against these [ranked] teams. You have to know you can win.”