Field hockey: 2015 season preview

As William and Mary gears up for the 2015 field hockey season, Tribe fans can be sure of one thing: the opponents’ goalkeepers are not going to have a whole lot of leisure time on the field.

If the previous three years are any indication, senior attacker Pippin Saunders will be spearheading the Tribe attack as she has every season with the College, leading the team in total points with 22, 23 and 23 in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. No player has led the College in total points for three straight seasons since 1990, underlining Saunders’ effectiveness in attacking the net. The Colonial Athletic Association has taken notice, resulting in Saunders’ well-deserved recognition as a pre-season All-CAA selection. If the Tribe is to make a run at the conference title, Saunders will be a huge part of that equation.

Joining Saunders as a preseason All-CAA selection is sophomore attacker Emma MacLeod, the 2014 CAA Rookie of the Year. MacLeod tied for third on the team in total points with 10 in 2014, solely due to her five goals, all of which were unassisted. A dangerous one-on-one threat, MacLeod should draw the defense’s attention — or else threaten to take the game over entirely.

The Tribe boasts even more firepower on the attacking side of the ball with a pair of experienced junior attackers in Maria Jose Pastor and Olivia Hajek. Playing the wing position, Pastor and Hajek have racked up a combined 11 goals over the past two seasons and have plenty of experience feeding the ball inside to keep the pressure on the opposing goalie.

At the midfield positions, the College’s starting lineup only consists of upperclassmen, a unique advantage for the squad. Although competition is fierce in the CAA, with reigning repeat champion Delaware once again topping the preseason poll, many in the conference still view the College’s high-octane offense as enough to claim the league. William and Mary is ranked fourth in the preseason and received a vote for first-place standing. James Madison and Northeastern ranked second and third, respectively, in the poll, JMU had two first-place votes, while Northeastern received a single first-place vote.

While midfielders senior Etsy Byrd and juniors Amanda McAteer and Mary Flick will be flying up the field to add additional pressure to opposing defenses, the success of the season likely hinges on their ability to get back and defend the Tribe net.

The major question mark for the 2015 Tribe is the back three defenders. Last season, the College graduated three multi-year starters in Jesse Ebner ‘15, Navneet Singh ‘15, and Kelsea Hull ‘15 from the defensive back line.

The major question mark for the 2015 Tribe is the back three defenders. Last season, the College graduated three multi-year starters in Jesse Ebner ‘15, Navneet Singh ‘15, and Kelsea Hull ‘15 from the defensive back line. Stepping up to the job is senior captain and sweeper Peyton Smith, who has had a long three-season wait behind the very talented trio in front of her for the starting spot. Senior defender Maddy Moore, usually the first to substitute in, will also be in the starting lineup. The remaining positions remain unsettled, but sophomore defenders Booter Ellis and Erin Menges are leading the pack so far.

They will be the last line of defense before senior goalkeeper Meredith Savage. After splitting playing time her sophomore year, Savage proved a cornerstone of last year’s defensive efforts, never missing a minute of game-time. With an inexperienced defensive unit in front of her, Savage will be under pressure to step up in the high-scoring affairs that are likely to define the 2015 campaign.

Two seasons in Williamsburg and two seasons as CAA coach of the year speaks volumes of head coach Tess Ellis’ abilities. While Ellis has a premier offensive unit at her disposal, the real test of her skills will be in the development of the young defense.

With a tough non-conference schedule, featuring teams such as University of Virginia and Duke University, this Tribe squad will be challenged early and often before CAA play. Yet with Northeastern, James Madison and Delaware all gaining national ranking last season, the Tribe may need every challenge it can get to iron out their defensive deficiencies and get the attack firing on all cylinders before the CAA tournament in November.

The 2015 campaign begins Aug. 28 at the Lock Haven Invitational in Lock Haven, Pa. The Tribe’s home opener is Sept. 4 against Ohio, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.


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