By ANDREW YOURELL
Last week, the UNH field hockey team took a long road trip to play games at William and Mary and at No. 10 University of Maryland. UNH tallied two goals in each game, but fell short, dropping both contests by scores of 3-2 and 5-2.
This weekend, the ‘Cats have another doubleheader, but they have the advantage of playing at home. On Friday, at 3 p.m., the Wildcats host the Providence Friars. The team has very little downtime before a 2 p.m. showdown with America East rival UMass-Lowell on Saturday.
“Both teams are pretty similar, so I guess if anything, it makes it a little bit easier in preparation for the weekend,” head coach Robin Balducci said.
According to Balducci both teams use a high-paced attack that will keep her team’s backfield busy.
“[Providence plays] really scrappy and fast, and works really hard. We’ve always had a tough time managing them,” she said.
Providence comes in with 1-7 record, with losses against Boston University, who also beat UNH, UMass-Lowell, and Northeastern, a team UNH beat 1-0.
UMass-Lowell, on the other hand, has a 5-2 record, and is an America East opponent that UNH will need to beat in order to make the America East tournament at the end of the season.
“Lowell plays very up-tempo, very aggressive in their defensive schemes and their attack,” Balducci said. “They go to goal. They try to really push the ball up.”
While many coaches might be worried their team is overlooking a non-conference opponent to prepare for the latter, conference game, Balducci is more worried that her team will be too focused on Providence.
“I think we have a much longer-standing tradition of competing with Providence,” she said. “To say that our team would overlook, or not focus, on Friday to focus on Saturday, I think I’m concerned about the opposite.”
The Friars come in with 11 goals in their eight games, though they’ve lost all four road games. But with their aggressive style of play, Balducci believes the Friars will be a good test for a UNH backfield manned by senior Chandler Giese, junior Jackie Hozza and sophomore Ashley Mendonca. The backfielders will try to keep the pressure off of sophomore goalkeeper Melissa Rize, who has had several outstanding games this season. Rize has undergone a trial by fire since taking over for former four-year starter Carlie Tarbell after her graduation. Rize has faced a daunting gauntlet of teams—No. 20 Boston University to start the year, followed by No. 18 UMass, No. 1 UConn and No. 10 Maryland.
“I would have expected this to be an up-and-down year,” Balducci said of her young goalkeeper. “The good news about it is, she is able to step in against a Maryland and make some big time saves.” Rize’s growth in net has helped the Wildcats stay competitive through their tough non-conference schedule.
One other positive for the Wildcats, according to their head coach, is the improving offensive output the team has seen in recent weeks. Against UConn, the Wildcats were unable to tally a goal, losing the contest 5-0, despite an eight-save effort from Rize. The team followed that game with a win over Northeastern, but only scored a single goal. The ‘Cats only got three shots off in the first half, before a 10-shot flurry helped lift them over Northeastern.
On the road, UNH scored two goals in the first game against William and Mary, and then two more against Maryland. The offense managed 14 shots against a dominant Terrapins team, nine of which were on goal.
“If you can generate that number of shots against Maryland, that’s something we can build on,” Balducci said.
The Wildcats will look to build on their successes this weekend to prepare for the new-look America East conference, which has doubled the number of games teams will play in-conference after accepting four West Coast schools to expand the conference. Only four of the five Eastern schools—UNH, Albany, Vermont, UMass-Lowell, and Maine—will make the postseason to take on the four western schools, Stanford, Cal, UC Davis and Pacific.