Lady Hens look to repeat conference, national success
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR
After a season in which the Delaware field hockey team went undefeated in the conference on its way to claiming the Colonial Athletic Association Championship and making it to the NCAA Tournament, one might expect the Lady Hens to start off training slowly.
However, judging by the drills and exercises the team were doing at practice, the team looked ready to get back into competition and secure a second-straight CAA championship trophy.
Head coach Rolf van de Kerkhof, now in his third year coaching Delaware, said while much of the training had been carried over from last season, improvements were being made to make sure every part of the action was quicker.
“It’s business as usual, but you always talk about ‘play and learn,’ and what we’ve learned is that we want to go further into potentially the CAA competitions or NCAA participation,” van de Kerkhof said. “We have to get faster, faster in every aspect of the word—speed of execution, speed of decision making.”
Changes to the team this year include the losses of four graduates: goalie Sarah Scher, defender Heather Hartman, midfielder Clare O’Malley and forward Toni Popinko. Scher allowed 34 goals in 22 games, while Hartman, O’Malley and Popinko contributed 12 goals to the Lady Hens’ totals last season.
Eleven players return to the field this season. Top of the list for Delaware is junior midfielder Michaela Patzner, who scored 16 goals and had nine assists last season while starting 14 games. Patzner said she had been recovering over the summer due to a stress fracture.
She said the offense has been working hard to improve its shot-making chances.
“I think we’re pretty strong, especially with a lot of incoming freshmen, we got a lot of new input that’s going to help us on the forward line,” Patzner said. “I think we’re going to be a good goal-scoring team again.”
In addition to Patzner, sophomore midfielder Esmée Peet is back this season. Peet scored 13 goals and had six assists last season on her way to CAA Player and Rookie of the Year honors, in addition to being named a first-team All-CAA player. This year she was named the CAA Preseason Player of the Year. Peet said that winning individual awards is a great feeling, but it is secondary to winning with the team.
She said the team is lively and brimming with skilled players.
“I think there’s a lot of energy in the team,” Peet said. “Everybody’s working hard. There’s a lot of new talent in the group.”
Nine freshman, including two redshirts, join the Lady Hens this season. Two players, midfielder Isabelle van der Kaaij and goalkeeper Emmeline Oltmans, hail from the Netherlands, while six come from the tri-state area.
One freshman, forward Taylor Lister, said the change between college and high school field hockey was not hard at all, as her teammates got her prepared.
“It’s definitely different, but I thought it wasn’t that big a shift because the girls have definitely helped me over the summer,” Lister, who hails from Hummelstown, Pa., said. “A lot of them were texting me and telling me about the run test and telling me what I can do to prepare to make it not so much of a gap.”
In fact, Lister showed she had adjusted well to the collegiate game as she scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Pacific University at Stanford University on Saturday, after they lost to the hosts on Friday, 4-0. The 18th-ranked Lady Hens played University of California yesterday for a 3-2 victory in overtime.
Delaware returns to Rullo Stadium on Friday to face Richmond before having to play No. 2 North Carolina on Sunday. The Tar Heels were the Lady Hens’ first-round opponents in the NCAA Tournament, beating them 6-2.
Van de Kerkhof said playing North Carolina is a gauge for how strong the team is at the moment.
“Playing them again this year like we did last year, it allows us to see where we are,” he said. “Every year that we have played a caliber program like a Carolina, the gap has gotten smaller, allowing us to see that we are making progress as a program, so UNC at Delaware will allow us to further build for the rest of our season.”
Overall, the coach said he was pleased about how the team looked in practice.
“I’m excited to be back with our team,” he said. “A very motivated group of young players, leadership has been further developed and the puzzle pieces are being put in place along the way.”