By ANDREW YOURELL
The UNH field hockey team has already played some of the best talent the Northeast region has to offer in 2015. Up next for the Wildcats is a road trip down south to take on William and Mary College and the University of Maryland.
Both opponents have deceiving 3-3 records, but UNH head coach Robin Balducci knows that their previous wins and losses will have little effect on how they play against UNH.
“We haven’t played William and Mary for a long time,” she said. “It’s going to be an interesting game.”
While Balducci’s staff watches video and scouts the strengths and weaknesses of William and Mary, Balducci says that her team won’t truly know what its facing until they take the field on Friday. To help the team out, she’s taken both of this weekend’s opponents and compared them to recent regional foes.
“We play Northeastern all the time…you kind of know what to anticipate,” she said. “William and Mary, for me, is a CAA school that competes with Northeastern, so I put it in that realm.”
Northeastern came to Durham on Sept. 13, and the Wildcats walked away with a 1-0 win off the stick off Katie Audino. UNH peppered Northeastern in the second half, racking up 10 shots in the half and 13 in the game, and will likely need to duplicate the offensive effort to secure a win.
“They have good scoring, they have good corners, they play tough defense,” Balducci said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup for sure.”
The Tribe are coming off back-to-back losses to No. 13 Old Dominion and No. 4 Duke, and will be hungry for a win to get back above the .500 mark.
The weekend’s biggest test, however, will come on Sunday, when the ‘Cats travel to Maryland. The Terrapins were ranked No. 7 in the nation before the weekend’s slate of games, and while their 3-3 record might not jump off the paper, they’ve outscored opponents 20-12 this season, and their three losses were by a combined three points.
“They play a very fast, up-tempo game. We’ll have our hands full with that,” Balducci said, choosing to compare the Terrapins to the UConn Huskies team that recently handed UNH a 0-5 loss on Friday.
Sunday’s matchup isn’t about winning and losing, according to Balducci. The real reason for scheduling games with such highly-touted opponents is twofold: one, the games give UNH a chance to see where it stacks up nationally, potentially giving the team a chance to compete in a national tournament; and two, to prepare the ‘Cats for when their conference season begins on Sept. 26.
“Absolutely,” she said. “We play UConn, we play Maryland, we play UMass, we play BU, these guys, to be prepared for the conference.”
The top team in America East is the University at Albany, which beat Maryland 2-1. For Balducci, the close game between Maryland and Albany just reinforces the decision to play against teams like Maryland early in the 2015 campaign.
“I think for us, it’ll be good, because it’ll be very similar, as I said, to stepping on the field with Albany,” she said.
One of the big things that Balducci’s staff has been working on in preparation for the games against William and Mary and Maryland is limiting the number of free opportunities that the ‘Cats give their opponents. Two of UConn’s goals came off of UNH turnovers.
Another issue Balducci and her staff were concerned with after the Dartmouth game, was the lack of on-field leadership.
“It was really the lack of, who’s going to take charge and step up, and demand from teammates on the field?” Balducci explained. “We talked a lot about it, about, stealing the line from Belichick, ‘what’s your job?’”
Against UConn, UNH showed flashes of improved leadership, and Balducci was happy with what she saw from her team. In the Northeastern game, things really clicked for the team. Balducci singled out the leadership and terrific play of backs Chandler Giese and Jackie Hozza, and a more focused attack led by seniors Meg Carroll and Meg Flatley.
The Wildcats play the Tribe in Williamsburg, Virginia, on Friday at 6 p.m. and battle Maryland in College Park Sunday at 12 p.m.