UNH field hockey is youthful but optmistic

The University of New Hampshire field hockey team won the America East regular season title when the Class of 2003, which included Marcie Boyer (Dillsburg, Pa.) and Kristen Weldon (Avon, Conn.), was a group of sophomores in 2000. That year the Wildcats also advanced to the conference championship game and to the NCAA tournament via an at-large bid. UNH, which will be playing on new AstroTurf at Memorial Field, looks to regain its championship form as these seniors wear the Blue and White for the last time in 2002.

"Coming off a year with a young team, we've spent the offseason bringing the team together," said 12th-year head coach Robin Balducci, who has guided New Hampshire to more wins (112) than any other coach in the program's 27-year history. "We're getting experience to enter the 2002 season with the focus of team performance and team success. Last year we had a strength of play in individual performance. Now we're looking to gel as a team."

Boyer, named to the 2002 USFHA U-23 Team and a two-time selection to both the Northeast Regional All-America First Team and NFHCA National Academic Squad, will captain UNH from midfield. She has been a consistently dynamic point producer in her three years as a Wildcat and in 2001, Boyer led New Hampshire in both goals (eight) and points (17).

Weldon has been a strong offensive presence from the midfield - she was second to Boyer in both goals (seven) and points (16), and she led the squad in game-winning goals last season - and, as a result, will make the transition to forward this year.

Completing the triumvirate of seniors is Lizzy Duffy (Oak Park, Ill.), who transferred from North Carolina to UNH last fall and was named to the Northeast Regional All-America Second Team. After missing the initial six games of the season, Duffy started the final 13 contests and recorded eight points on two goals and four assists. She ranked second on the team in the latter statistic.

Juniors Samantha Carr (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.) and Jen Stamp (Tyngsboro, Mass.), both of whom started 16 of 19 games a year ago, will be relied upon to provied offense. Stamp was one of four Wildcats in double figures with 10 points on four goals and two assists. Carr recorded six points last season, including two on her game-winning goal in overtime against America East rival Boston University.

Five sophomores will also contribute to UNH's success on offense, which is expected to be more potent than last year's production of 1.79 goals per game. Heidi Anderson (Hampton Falls, N.H.), Lauren Bruce (Amherst, N.Y.) and Jennifer Harrison (Hanover, Mass.) all gained significant experience last year as rookies. Anderson, who started eight of the 17 games in which she played, led this group in scoring with six points, all on goals. Harrison played in all but one game and provided a spark off the bench. Bruce looks to carry a strong finish to the 2001 season into this fall. Nicole Pandolfo (Reading, Mass.) learned from the sidelines and playing time in spring scrimmages.

The defensive unit is anchored by goalkeepers Christine Buckley (Walpole, Mass.) and Julie Munson (Dover, N.H.). Buckley, an America East All-Rookie Team selection in 2001, earned the starting nod 15 times and compiled a 6-9 record with a 2.12 GAA and a .797 save percentage. She recorded double digits in saves three times, including a career-high 17 against national power Old Dominion, which ended the year ranked No. 1. Munson finished with a 1-3 record, a 3.16 GAA and a .696 save percentage in eight games (four starts).

The corps of backs is young due to the graduation of Kaitlin Carney and Cameron Schmitz. Juniors Courtney Goodwin (Lynnfield, Mass.)and Jennie Peyser (Rye, N.H.) bring the most experience to the unit. Peyser played in every game a year ago and was in the starting lineup 10 times, which is the same number of games in which Goodwin appeared.

Brittany Schneider (Middletown, Md.), perhaps the most talented of the backs, immediately stepped into the starting lineup last season as a freshman and was named to the America East All-Rookie Team. She ranked third on the team in assists a year ago as she became the trigger on the offensive penalty corner.

UNH welcomes two freshmen, including Kaitlyn Skelley (Wolfeboro, N.H.), the top recruit within the state of New Hampshire. Skelley, who competed at the USFHA Futures Elite Program for three years and was in the Junior Olympics twice, is a very skilled and athletic midfielder. Katie White (Glens Falls, N.Y.) is a Northern Regional All-America Team selection who led her team to back-to-back state championships the past two years. She will provide immediate scoring punch to the 'Cat attack.

"I think that we will have strong leadership in our seniors and juniors," Balducci said. "We have more experience in the goal cage and a more solid attack."

With the growing pains of 2001 in the past, New Hampshire will once again challenge the best teams in the region as well as the nation. The Wildcats open the 2002 season against Maryland, which lost in the national championship game and ended the year ranked second in the poll. UNH plays four other teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament -- Old Dominion, which was ranked No. 1 in the final poll, Syracuse, Massachusetts and Northeastern.

UNH's fourth game of the year vs. Stanford (at Syracuse) -- another team that was nationally ranked at the end of 2001 -- has historical significance in that it will be the 500th game in the program's history; the Wildcats enter 2002 with a 289-175-32 record in 27 years.

Sept. 28 is another date to circle on the calendar. That's when New Hampshire will make its debut at the renovated Memorial Field.

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