In her last two games, UNH field hockey’s goalkeeper Melissa Rize has recorded career-highs in saves. On Sunday, the defense tried to give her the day off, allowing only three shots in a 1-0 win over Northeastern.

“I thought our backs were outstanding today,” head coach Robin Balducci said. “It’s not anything that I think that they couldn’t do. I think they were just a little more tentative than they needed to be in the last couple of games.”

In the team’s game against Dartmouth last weekend, Rize faced 12 shots, stopping eight of them en route to a 4-2 loss. On Friday, in a matchup with the No. 1 UConn Huskies, Rize stopped another eight shots, but the team lost 5-0. Northeastern was unable to get much started, though, with a stifling defensive effort from Chandler Giese and Jackie Hozza.

“We felt really strong today,” Rize said. “We’ve been working to tactically stick to our game.”

Balducci agreed with her goalkeeper’s sentiment, noting a big improvement in her defense, but also lauding the second half effort of her offensive unit. Freshman Katie Audino broke the tie in the 61st minute, when she took a pass from Meg Flatley and shot it past Northeastern’s Becky Garner.

“It was a great setup,” Balducci said. “Flat [Flatley] with her breakaway speed had them [Northeastern] on their heels and Katie Audino was the recipient of being able to be open and finish.”

Audino, a freshman, also received praise from her coach for her ability to remain calm and composed in the circle, which allowed her to corral Flatley’s pass and direct a sure shot.

In the first half of the game, the ‘Cats controlled the tempo, but were unable to make their three shots count. Balducci said that some of their strengths in the first half—the possession advantage, ability to pass well and to evade the defense—were discussed at half time to make adjustments that helped win the game.

“We had so much possession in the first half, that that’s what we talked about at half time, was like ‘look, we’re possessing the ball so well in the midfield. We’ve got to look at what we’re doing to build it into the circle,’” Balducci said. “We talked about having a few more circle entries and putting them back on their heels a little bit, trying not to set up the ‘perfect’ play in the circle.”

The adjustments worked, and the team came out in the second half putting the pressure on the Northeastern defense. Northeastern logged only one shot in the second half, while UNH piled 10 shots on goal to lift its game total to 13.

Balducci said that she wasn’t surprised her team only tallied one goal, despite taking 13 shots. She admitted the team missed some open nets, and expressed some disappointment in the team’s opportunities on corner shots. But she knew coming into the game that it would require a lot of shots to come away with a win.

“We knew Northeastern’s goalkeeper,” she said. “She was light’s out last year. We couldn’t get a ball by her last year. She was standing on her head against us, and so really that was our gameplan, is that we needed to pepper her. Otherwise, you’re not going to score.”

Despite the flaws, Balducci was happy with the team’s performance, and the win that brings UNH’s record on the season up to 2-3. The team will take a road trip to the south this week, with matchups against William and Mary on Friday, Sept. 18, and No. 8 University of Maryland on Sept. 20. The matchup with Maryland will be the fourth game the ‘Cats play this season against a top-25 opponent; they opened the season with a loss at No. 20 Boston University by a score of 4-3, followed by a  4-3 win against No. 18 UMass. The No. 1 University of Concecticut Huskies beat UNH on Friday by a score of 5-0.

The tough matchups have been especially helpful in getting Rize up to speed this season, Balducci said.

“It’s hard to get some traction,” she said. “We opened the season against some big opponents for a young keeper to have to manage…we didn’t really allow her to get traction, to kind of settle in. Then she’s been gaining confidence and she’s been able to settle.”

Rize was a big question mark coming into the season, as she looked to replace a four-year starter in Carlie Tarbell

“I came in, I redshirted my freshman year,” Rize said. “I got to learn a lot from Carlie Tarbell…she’s awesome. She’s an amazing teacher, super helfpful.

The lessons have been working so far, keeping UNH competitive against some of the nation’s top teams. But the defense will look to make sure that Rize doesn’t need to repeat her back-to-back career high save efforts in their upcoming games.

UNH will return to action at home with a Sept. 25, matchup with Providence College, before taking on their first America East opponent of the season, UMass Lowell, on Sept. 26. The games will start at 3 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively. With the defense starting to find its stride and the offense executing crisply, the future looks bright for the conference portion of the season.

Executive Editor