DURHAM, N.H.  -- The 2008 University of New Hampshire field hockey team, under the guidance of 18th-year head coach Robin Balducci, looks to build on the foundation established by last year’s team that advanced to the America East league tournament. The Wildcats return experience and depth at forward, midfield and back. They also welcome into the program a corps of players ready to step in and play.

“We made strides last fall and had a number of close games that we lost by one goal,” Balducci said. “We are looking to turn that around with our experience, leadership and a group of freshmen who will immediately step in and make an impact on our program. And coming off a successful spring season developmentally should prove beneficial this fall.

“This is one of the most talented freshman classes I’ve had coming in, both in terms of talent and depth and across the board at all positions,” Balducci added. “There is a lot of speed in the freshman class and several have played at high levels both nationally and internationally.”

New Hampshire natives Sarah Craigue (Concord, N.H.) and Kiera Williams (Dover, N.H.) will be two key players for the 2008 Wildcats.

Craigue, a senior attack who enters her final year with three years of starting experience, is the Wildcats’ top returning point producer. She tallied 13 points on four goals and five assists – all of which marked career highs – as a junior last season. Craigue will once again be a go-to player for UNH in ‘08.

Williams, a junior back with 37 career starts, earned America East All-Conference Second Team accolades last season in recognition of her outstanding play on the defensive end of the field. She also received UNH’s Marisa Didio Award, which is bestowed to a field hockey player who goes the extra mile, each of her first two years as a Wildcat.

UNH has a formidable backfield with the return of Williams, seniors Kara Napolitano (Waltham, Mass.) and Brittany Jacobs (Frederick, Md.), and junior Cally Cooke (Newburyport, Mass.).

Napolitano has been a starter since arriving in Durham and has also been an integral part of the defensive penalty corner unit. Last year, Napolitano was also a pivotal part of the offensive penalty corner unit, and she factored into four goals by scoring three times and setting up one other tally.

Cooke, who has two years of starting experience alongside Williams, is a skillful back who logs innumerable minutes and defends well against penalty corners. Her skills were also utilized on the offensive end of the field, where she scored two goals on penalty strokes.

Jacobs sat out the 2007 season but brings two years of experience to the squad. She began her Wildcat career as a midfielder in ‘05 – and was one of the team’s top point producers – then made a successful transition to a defensive role as a sophomore. Jacobs’ return fortifies and already strong corps of backs.

Incoming freshmen Kendall Deck (Bridgwater, N.J.) and Kyle Lyons (White River Junction, Vt.) add depth to the defensive unit. Deck was selected to the National Futures Championship each of the past two years, and Lyons helped lead Kimball Union Academy to a New England championship.

There will be a new Wildcat defending the cage this year, as three-year starter Margaux Shute graduated last spring and will be patrolling the UNH sidelines as an assistant coach in 2008. Sophomore goalie Mollie Ryan (Sanbornton, N.H.) is the only ‘Cat with collegiate experience, but that experience was limited to one game – the last 3 minutes, 38 seconds at Central Michigan – in the fall season.

Incoming freshmen Jenna Lehman (Kingston, Pa.), an All-State Second Team selection out of Pennsylvania, and Katherine Nagengast (Westborough, Mass.), who recorded a 0.30 GAA as a high school senior, will battle for playing time. Both Lehman and Nagengast put themselves in position to gain experience and skill outside of high school competition before joining the UNH program.

At the other end of the field, Meg Shea (Melrose, Mass.) is another ‘Cat with a proven scoring touch. The junior, who ranked second on the team in points as a rookie in ‘06, stepped into a starting role last year and garnered America East All-Conference Second Team accolades. Shea’s power complements Craigue’s finesse to give New Hampshire a formidable 1-2 punch up front. Last year, Shea was honored as the team’s Joyce V. Hiller Scholarship Award recipient in recognition of her selfless giving to teammates and the program.

Leah Boody (Amesbury, Mass.) has provided offensive punch off the bench in her first two years as a UNH Wildcat and is coming off a very strong spring season. KT Rich (Westborough, Mass.) redshirted the 2007 season and she will add depth to the front line.

Incoming freshmen Whitney Frates (Woodstock, Vt.) and Hayley Rausch (Severna Part, Md.) are expected to make immediate contributions. Frates was an All-America Second Team selection last season, when she broke her school’s single-season point record with 31 goals and 25 assists; she was a teammate of fellow freshman Kyle Lyons and helped lead Kimball Union to a New England championship. Rausch was also a prolific point producer at the high school level, where she ranked in the top 20 in the nation in scoring. She helped lead Severna Park to three state championships in four years and will also be a member of the UNH women’s lacrosse team.

Caitlyn Smith (Greenland, N.H.) joins the program as a transfer from Sacred Heart University.

In the midfield, Hannah Colestock (Oak Park, Ill.) has seen increased playing time in her first three seasons as a Wildcat – she started nine games last year after two years of coming off the bench. She has displayed good decision making and could have a strong impact in ‘08.

Sophomores Kara Connolly (Mohegan Lake, N.Y.) and Devan Weed (East Hampstead, N.H.) gained valuable experience off the bench during their rookie campaign. Connolly had a great spring season and is expected to play a more significant role this year, including being the stopper on penalty corners.

Kate Collins Smyth (Parteen, County Claire) joins the UNH program from Ireland, where she was a member of the Irish Under-18 Team, and she will challenge the returning ‘Cats for significant playing time. Holly Cuff (Washington, N.J.) comes from a very competitive club program where she played on the first team. Her game sense and passing will help the ‘Cats this year.

New Hampshire, which was selected fourth in the America East preseason coaches' poll, opens the 2008 season Aug. 30 against 15th-ranked American University at the Eagles' William I Jacobs Recreational Complex. The Wildcats’ first home game is Sept. 5 (2 p.m.) against Brown University.
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