|Senior co-captain Heidi Anderson|
DURHAM, N.H. -- The University of New Hampshire field hockey team battles for the America East conference title year-in and year-out, and the 2004 Wildcats are no different as they have their sights set on advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2000 season by utilizing a speedy attack and an experienced defensive unit that features a fourth-year starter in goal.
“We’re looking to build on last year’s success,” said 14th-year head coach Robin Balducci. “We’re looking to be stronger nationally by competing against teams like Duke and Iowa on the road.
“In addition, we want to continue to build on our conference success and aim for the top spot in America East,” she added. “We want to be that No. 1 seed and host the tournament.”
On offense, UNH has a formidable duo that provides a solid foundation.
Katie White (Glens Falls, N.Y.) emerged as one of the top offensive threats in the America East conference – and the nation – during her sophomore 2003 season. She recorded 21 goals and 44 points, both of which rank No. 2 on UNH’s list of single-season superlatives, to finish No. 8 in the nation in goals per game (1.000) and 12th in points per game (2.095). White’s 21 goals accounted for 42.9% of the team total (49).
While White proved to be an excellent finisher, rookie Caitlin Gillen (New Preston, Conn.) demonstrated that she was adept at both setting up and scoring goals. She ranked third on the team in both goals (six) and assists (five), as well as points (17).
Out of the backfield, senior Brittany Schneider (Middletown, Md.) is the team’s third leading returning scorer. She has proven to be a dangerous threat on penalty corners and also scored two goals on penalty strokes a year ago.
Lauren Bruce (Amherst, N.Y.), another senior back, and sophomore MacKenzie Stuart (Washington Depot, Conn.) are two other key components on offense. Bruce is the returning assist leader and ranked second overall a year ago as the stopper on penalty corners.
Senior co-captain Heidi Anderson (Hampton Falls, N.H.) also figures to play a prominent offensive role as a consistent point producer.
Emily Colton (Milton, Mass.) gained invaluable experience coming off the bench last year as a rookie and will provide depth yet again to the forward corps.
Immediate production is expected from incoming freshmen Liz Edwards (Essex Falls, N.J.), who was a Regional All-America First Team selection as a senior in high school, and in-state product Jen Mooney (Manchester, N.H.). Shauna Sellenger (Londonderry, N.H.), yet another rookie from the Granite State, adds depth to the front line of attack.
The defense is anchored by senior goalkeeper Christine Buckley (Walpole, Mass.), who will be a fourth-year starter. She ranked seventh in the nation a year ago in saves with 166 and was second in America East at 7.90 saves per game. Buckley faced eight nationally-ranked teams, surrendered fewer than two goals in eight of 21 games and recorded a 1.09 GAA in six America East conference games en route to her selection to the All-Conference Second Team.
“We have Christine Buckley returning in goal, and that makes all the difference in the world as we challenge the top teams in the nation,” Balducci stated.
Margaux Shute (Norridgewock, Maine) returns in goal following a redshirt season in 2003.
The backfield is led by Schneider – an All-Conference Second Team selection – and Bruce, as well as Kaitlyn Skelley (Wolfeboro, N.H.). Schneider and Skelley excel in marking the opposition’s top scorers and limiting their effectiveness.
The unit also features sophomore Anita Anastasi (Watertown, Mass.), who appeared in 10 of 21 games as a rookie. Redshirt freshmen Samantha Geary (Norwood, Mass.) and Kate Gedney (Westbrook, Conn.) will also look to be in the backfield rotation. Incoming freshman Nicole Lee (Trinidad & Tobago) and Stefanie Simeone (Stratham, N.H.) are expected to earn considerable playing time.
New Hampshire battles seven opponents who were nationally ranked in the final NFHCA poll of 2003, and five of those teams competed in the NCAA tourney.
The 2004 season opens with games against two such teams. Michigan, one of four Big Ten teams on this year’s schedule, travels to Durham for the season opener on September 2 following last year’s trip to the NCAA semifinals and a #6 national ranking. The Wildcats then travel to play Duke, the #2-ranked team that lost in the title game.
UNH’s other two home games in September are against regional rivals Harvard and Providence. The game vs. PC is the first of three home night games for the ‘Cats this season, as they will also play host to Connecticut and Dartmouth under the lights at Memorial Field in the first week of October.
That month features UNH’s second trip of the season to the midwest – the ‘Cats will also travel to Iowa in September – to play Indiana and Northwestern.
New Hampshire ends the regular season with four of five games against America East conference opponents, including home games against Albany, Vermont and Boston University in the regular-season finale on October 30.
UNH will then turn its attention to the postseason. The America East tournament is November 5-7 at the site of the highest seed, and the tourney champion receives automatic qualifier status to the NCAAs.
“We have more experience on defense and a lot of speed on the forward line,” Balducci said. “We had a high number of young players last year who got a lot of experience, and that will
help raise their level for this season.”