DURHAM, N.H. - The University of New Hampshire field hockey team has advanced to both the America East championship game and to the NCAA tournament in two of the last three years. Despite losing six starters to graduation that included a quartet of four-year starters and regional All-America selections, the 2001 Wildcat team expects to build on the foundation of success in recent years that includes a 14-8 record last season.
"We will by very young and we lost six very talented players to graduation," 11th year head coach Robin Balducci conceded. "However, we have a core group that has achieved a level of success and winning that will lead the younger kids to a level of excellence."
Senior tri-captains Kaitlin Carney (Farmington, Conn.), Cameron Schmitz (Cos Cob, Conn.) and Tami Street (Kingston, N.Y.) anchor that core group. Carney and Schmitz, both of whom started all 22 games last season, backbone the defensive corps and are key components of the penalty corner unit. Schmitz, a two-time America East All-Conference Second Team selection, is a three-year starter who will also lend her talents to the Wildcats' offensive penalty corner. Street, as one of the top playmakers, will lead the offense. She recorded a team-best 10 assists last season and has recorded 16 points each of the last two years.
"Our senior captains as leaders will play a major role in our being successful not only through their playing ability but through their knowledge of the game and a winning attitude," Balducci stated.
Unlike recent Wildcat squads, which were built around defense, the success of this year's team will be dependent on the offensive unit.
"Our strength will be at midfield and attack," Balducci said. "Our philosophy will be to score a lot of goals. We have a lot of speed returning and in the new additions to the program. Our team speed will allow us to play a more uptempo, run-and-gun style."
The top returning scorer is junior Marcie Boyer (Dillsburg, Pa.), a 2000 regional All-America First Team selection. Boyer ranked second on the team in scoring with 21 points on seven goals and seven assists and she tied for the team lead in game-winning goals with three.
Classmate Kristen Weldon (Avon, Conn.) will be another top point producer. She ranked third in goals last season and was fourth overall with 16 points (six goals, four assists).
Sophomores Samantha Carr (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.) and Jennifer Stamp (Tyngsboro, Mass.) are two youngsters expected to make the offense well balanced. Both players were important contributors in the offensive rotation and also earned time in the starting lineup.
On defense, Carney and Schmitz will be complemented by sophomores Courtney Goodwin (Lynnfield, Mass.), Melissa Lehmann (Granby, Conn.) and Jennifer Peyser (Rye, N.H.). Goodwin and Peyser both saw limited action in the defensive rotation in 2000 but are expected to be valuable contributors this season.
The biggest shoes to fill will be those worn by the goalkeeper, as that player must step into the vacated position by four-year starter and Canadian National Team member Amy Agulay. Julie Munson (Dover, N.H.) watched from the sidelines last year as a freshman but did gain playing time at the collegiate level in the spring. Newcomer Christine Buckley (Walpole, Mass.), meanwhile, brings an impressive resume to Durham. Buckley, a regional high school All-American, set a national record for career shutouts with 66 and also had career numbers of a 0.28 goals-against-average and a .944 save percentage.
Buckley is one of eight newcomers -- six of which were regional All-America selections -- to the 2001 Wildcat squad. Lauren Bruce (Amherst, N.Y.), who led her team in scoring all four years and set a school record for career points, and Nichole Cutler (Reading, Mass.) join the forward line of attack. They will not be the only ones contributing to the offense, however, as Heidi Anderson (Hampton Falls, N.H.), Jennifer Harrison (Hanover, Mass.), Jen Martha (Cheshire, Conn.) and Nicole Pandolfo (Reading, Mass.) are welcome additions at midfield. Brittany Schneider (Middletown, Mad.) has the ability to make an immediate impact at the defensive end of the field.
In addition to its tough conference schedule, UNH plays a challenging non-conference slate that includes five teams from the 2000 NCAA tournament. The 'Cats open the 2001 season against one such team in William & Mary. New Hampshire plays host to UMass and Harvard and also included are neutral-site battles against UConn and defending champion Old Dominion. UNH's home schedule also features conference rivals Northeastern and Maine.
"This group of seniors has been to the America East tournament every year, so our goal is to get there again," Balducci said. "They have also been to the NCAA's twice, so another goal is to make it back there again."
Note: UNH opens the 2001 season Aug. 25 (1 p.m.) at William & Mary. The team is leaving Thursday, so please contact me ASAP to arrange any possible interviews for a preseason article. The team also plays at Virginia Commonwealth (Aug. 26, noon) this weekend. The home opener at Memorial Field is scheduled for Aug. 31 (4 p.m.) vs. UMass.
The America East preseason poll is going to be released Wed., Aug. 22.