Preseason Camp Close To Wrapping Up With Columbia Scrimmage

The Leopard Field Hockey team boarded several vans this morning  and drove up route 78 emulating the many commuters who use the route to travel to work from Easton to New York every day. They were not going to an air conditioned high office building today. Perhaps after they have their diploma in hand, it’s what they will doing, but today it was to battle with the Columbia Lions in 95 degree heat which certainly reached well over 105 degrees on the artificial turf. For this scrimmage the two head coaches decided on a format where the first period would be a full 35 minutes followed by two 20 minute periods and a practice shoot out. The three periods of normal hockey resulted in a 1-1 tie with the Lions drawing first blood on a corner and the Leopards returning the favor several minutes later on a corner of their own.

Lafayette and Columbia battle all day in the heat
Lafayette and Columbia battle all day in the heat

I didn’t do an exact count, but I believe the Leopards had 4 or 5 corners in the first period to the Lions’ one. After that period, there were significant substitutions on both sides. Gabrielle Ulery, the Leopard’s freshman goalie played the second period and acquitted herself well, having several saves. The third period again saw significant substitution by both sides.

Kaitlyn Arnold and Hannah Millen protect the cage
Kaitlyn Arnold and Hannah Millen protect the cage

Katlyn Arnold continues to impress and Rosie Shanks and Ami Turner were involved close to the net often all afternoon. The Leopards showed significant speed and stick control as they spread the field well during the scrimmage. The heat, and the days of training showed, as both teams were expending good effort to try dominate play. From this writers perspective, the Leopards had the better of it, spending much of their time in Columbia’s space.

Kendall Weeding advances into the Columbia circle
Kendall Weedling advances into the Columbia circle

The Lafayette defense was on their toes all game turning back a good Columbia offense. It was  a   good competitive finale to preseason, as thursday begins freshman move in. and classes begin the following monday. For the team. it will be time to evaluate these scrimmages. and to get into the rhythm of the regular season. Sunday it’ll be Ball State’s turn to face the Leopards in Lafayette’s home and season opener. Ball State will play Rutgers the day before for their opening game of the  season with a new coach.

I think Lafayette has yet to play their best hockey. There is talent there, and I for one can’t wait to see how they do with fresh legs on Sunday at 12 noon.

Kaitlyn Arnold In Goal Shines In Preseason Scrimmage

The Lafayette Field Hockey team got their first test of the year, under the lights at Rappolt Field last night against Rutgers, who entered the field with one scrimmage already under their belt. It was goalie Kaitlyn Arnold playing a standout game by turning away multiple shots on corners and also stoping several penalty stroke shots that caught the attention of fans and the coaches. If there is a better goalie in the Patriot League this year I don’t know her.

The scrimmage consisted of several parts, two halves of hockey under normal game rules, a seven on seven period, and a shoot out. Coach Stone was generally happy with the performance singling out goalie Arnold for praise. She also took note of Ami Turner,Rosie Shanks, and Theresa Delahanty and their play. “We clearly have things to work on next week,” remarked coach Stone, “But overall I’m happy with much of the scrimmage,”

Cody Hunsicker moves the ball upfield
Cody Hunsicker moves the ball upfield

Rutger’s defense was particularly effective containing the Leopard attack, but the Leopard defense turned away many Rutgers opportunities. With the score tied 1-1 at 6 minutes to go, Lafayette unfortunately received two yellow cards benching two Leopard players for 5 minutes. It was in that period with the Leopards short two players, that Rutgers was able to score making the score 2-1.

Cody Hunsicker advances the ball against a Rutgers defender
Hannah Millen  advances the ball against a Rutgers defender

Moving on to the seven on seven phase, the Leopards were to score twice while Rutgers scored once. With the field opened up Lafayette, was to use their speed to their advantage.After that there was a shoot out which would lead in the end to a Rutgers advantage of 8-7.

This was a typical Rutgers/Lafayette game which traditionally are very competitive.The schools are close neighbors but were unable to find an open date this year, so the series is interrupted. I hope they will find a mutual date next year as this series is a natural considering the closeness and history of the schools. The Leopards will have Sunday off and on Monday will practice and prepare for a scrimmage at Columbia University on tuesday at 1 pm.

Championships Are Won On The Field Not In Silly Polls

I have never been a big fan of polls and the latest Patriot League preseason polls demonstrates to me how worthless they can be. The best that can be said is that they are, in general an opinion of relative strength. The latest example is the league field hockey poll with the predicted order of finish of Boston University, American University, Bucknell, Lafayette, Colgate, Lehigh,and Holy Cross. Coaches and SID’s (sports information directors) do the voting. Basically, they vote based on last year’s finish and maybe a little tweak here and there. When Lafayette won two championships in a row, the Leopards were not picked first in either case. I sometimes wonder if new classes and graduations are seriously considered by SID’s who couldn’t tell you if there are offsides in college field hockey. (There isn’t).

Kaitlyn Arnold kicks the ball away against the University of Connecticut last year
Kaitlyn Arnold kicks the ball away against the University of Connecticut last year

What is obvious to me is how competitive the Patriot League has become. Anyone of the top five in the poll will be in the mix at the end. Only four teams will make the League tournament, that will decide who goes to the NCAA’s. In the League games last year that Lafayette lost, the Leopards lost by only one goal in each of those games. Colgate got in despite a losing record and a very weak schedule. I don’t agree with the premise, that it’s only the league games that count. Yes, you must win the league games to go on, but in the year when the Leopards won their last championship their RPI and number 10 national ranking got them a better seed, and past the play in game with Princeton ( who won the eventual national championship). The leopards then played a competive game with Maryland losing 2-0.

Senior Kendall Weedling will an offensive weapon with her speed
Senior Kendall Weedling will be an offensive weapon with her speed

So what we are looking at are must win games in the league ( Colgate,Holy Cross and Lehigh) to get to the league tournament. Beating at least one of the other three  guarantees a place and a good seed, and perhaps the home field. The leopards enter the season with a good freshman class which by all accounts will result in at least good minutes for its members.They will have large strength in their offense with multiple players capable of finding the back of the cage. The Lafayette goalie will be Kaitlyn Arnold, a high school all american now entering her junior year. The defensive line will be anchored by Hannah Millen entering her fourth year as a starter.

Junior Ami Turner plays offense and defense well and has good vision on the field
Junior Ami Turner plays offense and defense well and has good vision on the field

It is a long season and the belly of the season with Uconn, Albany, Temple and a very dangerous Liberty University team (who lost to UNC 2-1 in the NCAA’s) provide very tough out of conference competition. It will all start tomorrow with a scrimmage with an improving  Rutgers team at 7pm at home. Beating up on each other for the last week of two a days can get boring and tomorrow we get a peek at the future.

The Three “T’s” For Today’s Coach……Training, Technology and Teaching

As the Lafayette Field Hockey team entered their state of the art field for practice today I was struck by a coach’s three T’s, training, technology, and teaching. When I was playing football and lacrosse at Lafayette in the “old” days of the 60’s technology consisted of film (sometimes budget wiling} of practice, training camp was more like 3 weeks in some gulag where taking water was a sign of being a “wuss,” and teaching was a coach yelling at you for the next 2 1/2 hours. It all has become far more professional.

Hannah Millen closes in for a shot
Hannah Millen closes in for a shot

We arrived at about 8:30 and within 15 minutes the players began to arrive to begin their second day of pre-season camp. With some gratification it was the freshmen who arrived first. ( no change there I remarked to myself) But as the eventual full 21 player squad arrived I did notice a distinct difference. Players were being wired up. Was this some new NCAA rule to insure that there is no cursing or abuse of players?? After thinking this was another conspiracy to soften our youth, I walked over to Emily Janis, the Lafayette assistant coach who was tending to a computer on the sidelines. Listed on the computer screen was a list of player names with output showing a list of numbers and a number with a percentage sign on it. Emily was more than eager to show me her new toy.

“This is the ultimate in athletic nerd,” volunteered Emily. Each player is wired to record their heart activity, and the coaches can read and record what the player’s heart is doing real time. Emily explained that heart activity has a large correlation with injury. We know at what percentage of the maximum heart rate each player and collectively the team is exerting at any given time. She and the trainer, Jon Edwards explained. Your maximum heart rate according to studies is 220 minus your age, so with this piece of technology we can know in practice and even during a game how long to keep a player in or at what point real training is happening on the field. Jon explained, “Look at Amanda Magadan, her chart spikes as soon as she exerts and comes down equally fast. That is indication of an athlete that is in excellent condition.” Coach Janis says this becomes a tool during games because we will know when a athlete has given as much as she can and might even lead to injury.”

The last of the triad is teaching. Coach Stone’s practices are a model of precision. Before drills begin she explains what is going to happen and what she wants accomplished. At the practice we attended she explained they were practicing shooting with a drill that simulates circle penetration. Then the team assembled with the captains who had words of encouragement ending with a circle cheer of “LC.”

During the session, skills were emphasized, including reverse stick shots, quick flicks, and popping the ball over the defender’s stick. Footwork and speed were closely watched at each station which drilled a specific skill. At 30 seconds left Coach Stone let her team know the drill was ending. Each player was to keep their own tally of goals during the drill which will be repeated in the afternoon practice.

There are of course different levels of skill. Anyone would be impressed with Madagan’s skill set, but others like Millen,  and Turner showed great ball control and Colbourne’s reverse stick shots looked deadly. Earlier in the day I asked Coach Janis on the overall level of fitness. She said about 90 pct came fit and ready to play, those that had not reached their goals are having some remedial training. Well, some things do remain the same after all, but the coaches assured EVERY player would be ready to play when the time came.

Leopards Look Forward and Celebrate the Past

The 2015 version of Lafayette Field Hockey finally officially arrived today, August the thirteenth. For the first year teammates, it’s the end of a journey that began as long a two years ago. There were searches, showcase camps, recruiting visits, a coveted offer, and finally signed commitment letters. This was not the first meeting for the new leopards. Each new leopard was a assigned a team mentor and has already had the opportunity to bond with their new teammates with whom they will be spending much of their college hours. My observation at the opening tailgate hosted by the veteran parents is that this group is already a team. It was a time for good-byes and welcomes, greetings and “see you soons,” and maybe a tear or two from anxious parents.

But this will be a group that will be in contact often, as they follow their daughters in their next adventure, and friends will be gained as the Leopard’s most loyal fans will be in stands in Easton to Boston,Lynchburg Va. to Washington DC. From the other parents, they will learn about new rivalries and new hopes for new championships.

Coach Stone and her staff will waste little time putting together this new team. The afternoon will be occupied by getting new uniforms, physicals, or receiving new practice equipment. Their first taste of intercollegiate division one field hockey will come next week against Big Ten Rival Rutgers in a pre-season scrimmage. It is then, after a week of two a day practices, and strength training that all that effort will be put to the test. There are certainly questions to be answered. What will a newly constituted defense look like? Where will the scoring come from, and can the leopards raise their goal production in the coming season. Is the bench going to be deeper?

Deanna DeCroce sprints past American University defender
Deanna DiCroce sprints past American University defender

This a program with a deep tradition of success and some of that recognition came in the form of the Patriot League naming of athletes to the all 25 year team. The Leopards claimed 5 to the team, Andrea Dagostino ’94, Deanna DiCroce ’13, Suzi Farrell ’92, Megan Monahan ’03, and Jennifer Stone ’04. To my mind there are two missing names, Emily Valeo who holds the Patriot record for assists, and Jackie DeAngelo who hold the single season records for save percentage of .91. Since there were multiple nominations for goalies, I suppose that hurt her chances but to this fan I think it was a glaring omission.

In the coming weeks I hope to be able to report from practices spiced up with pictures and video. Until then good luck to everyone.

Coach Stone Reveals a Challenging Schedule for 2015

Ellen Colbourne dodges a Boston University defender in 2014
Ellen Colbourne dodges a Boston University defender in 2014

As the season progresses, I will give a more detailed account of each opponent as game day approaches, but I thought I would give a quick overview of the upcoming schedule. The overall schedule will have the Leopards meeting 5 NCAA tournament teams and two final four teams including the NCAA national division one champion. Out of conference games are usually constructed to give your team a chance to reconstitute itself, as old and new team members are integrated into a smooth operating unit. The Leopards have a small jump on that process with a successful trip to Spain, as the extra days of practice and games with good competition have helped the younger players gain confidence. That is a first part of the process as new first year players will join the team on August 13.

Katelyn Arnold excutes a kick save against Uconn in 2014
Katelyn Arnold excutes a kick save against Uconn in 2014

The first game will be with Ball State on on August 30 as they will arrive at Rappolt Field for the second time in four years. The last game with Ball State resulted in a 5-1 victory for the Leopards, but Ball State will come with a new competitive coach who will have a different outcome in mind.  The Leopards will not enter the game cold turkey, as multiple practice days will be highlighted with two scrimmages, where the coaches will be able take a look at their charges in Division one competition. The first scrimmage will be a home event at 7pm on August 21 against Big Ten foe Rutgers University. Four days later the Leopards will board a team bus to New York to take on Columbia University on the afternoon August 25 for their final tune up. It is also the day before freshmen orientation and they will move into their new dorm rooms and participate in a  series of meetings and events designed especially for them.

Paige Macrae zeroes in on Lehigh attacker in 2014 5-1 win
Paige Macrae zeroes in on Lehigh attacker in 2014 5-1 win

The next game will feature Siena College as one of the ten home games scheduled this year. The Sept 1 game will be a night game at 7 pm under the lights.The Leopards will then travel south to Virginia to take on Longwood University for the first time in many years. The Leopards continue their tour of Virginia to take on the tough Liberty University Flames who won their conference last year and lost to UNC in the first round of the NCAAs 2-1. The Flames will be looking to avenge a 4-2 loss last year in Easton. The Leopards will begin to get into the meat of their schedule against an always tough Monmouth squad before taking on annual foe Quinnipiac who will be trying to avenge a 3-2 overtime loss from last year. On saturday Sept 19 Lafayette again boards a bus this time to Boston as they open their league schedule against last year’s league champion Boston University. Lafayette will be out to get their first win against the Terriers since they entered the League. Lafayette in both contests lost by 1 goal despite out shooting and out cornering their opponent. It will be an intensive weekend as Lafayette will go to Uconn to take on the two time defending national champion on Sunday the 20th. It does not get easier as Albany, a final four team from last year arrive Easton for a game on the 25th at home at night.  A game with Drexel follows in Philadelphia on Monday at 7pm.

Ami Turner outflanks American University defender in 2014 game
Ami Turner outflanks American University defender in 2014 game

October is dominated by Patriot League games which will decide which 4 teams will play for the Patriot League Championship and a coveted spot in the NCAA national tournament. There will also be games at the University of Pennsylvania ( the most played game outside of Lehigh by Lafayette field hockey), Temple, and Yale. The schedule provides the team with chance to blend together and contains opponents strong enough to give Lafayette an RPI high enough to earn a national ranking. In addition, it appears many of the Patriot League teams have likewise kept their schedules equally challenging, which should enable the league as a whole to advance Each team member has been provided a training regimen so that upon their arrival coaches can concentrate on orienting the team to game schemes and team patterns. It will be a challenging year set to begin in about three weeks.

Seniors Hannah Millen and Kirby Szalkowski talk about the coming season

Recently, while visiting Total Hockey field hockey camp, I had an extended conversation with two of Lafayette’s veterans, Hannah Millen and Kirby Szalkowski. Entering their senior year this fall, these two roommates are determined to make the most of their last season on the Leopard’s turf. ” I suppose it’s a cliche,” said Millen, ” But this is our moment and we will try to make this a great memory for the whole team.” Millen is a history major and Szalkowski is a psychology major.

Rappolt: Are you anxious about this being your senior year?

Szalkowski: No, but we have been playing for the last 3 years and we intend to make the most of  it.

Rappolt: What game are you looking forward to?

Szalkowski: Always the next one……So right now, it’s Ball State on August 30th!! It is always one game at a time and stay focused.

Rappolt : Can you remember the obstacles you had to overcome as freshmen, and can you give any advice to your first year players?

Millen: The biggest adjustment is the speed of the game and to be open to new strategies.

Szalkowski: Yes the pace of the game is much quicker and requires faster decisions.

Millen and Szalkowskow: It’s a hinderance not come to preseason in fit condition. There is a lot to learn and adjust to, and being out of shape is just another thing to be worried about. But that gets sorted out after the first beep tests!!

Rappolt: Are you in contact with each other during the summer, and are you doing anything to integrate the new players.

Millen: Every first year player has someone assigned to her to answer questions, and for help during the summer. We also have 7-10 informal practices so everyone can get together, and begin to feel like we are one seamless  unit.

Szalkowski: That is always an objective. We want to support everyone and feel like one team, not a group of individuals. We are going to be very tight, with one single objective on game day.

Rappolt: Tell me about your experience in Spain.

Millen: It was a great time to bond and I think we played very well. Barcelona and Valencia were beautiful and the beach was great.

Szalkowski: It was great experience. I would love to go back!!

Rappolt: Did your Spanish improve?

Szalkowski and Millen: (Laugh) The effort was there. Amanda Magadan was our translator since she is fluent. But we all tried, and the local population was very helpful. Aside from the field hockey, seeing another culture and the beauty of the architecture left an impression on all of us.

Rappolt: You played one game against a men’s side, any differences???

Millen: Yes they hit the ball harder, and they were very strong.

Szalkowski: They had very accurate passing, but it was a great experience!

Rappolt: What did you get out of it the trip, overall field hockey wise?

Szalkowski: In the first game we were a little tentative but once we got our confidence, I thought we played well. That first contest we won 2-0 I think.

Millen: The other game was in our favor 6-2 as we played as a complete unit, the men’s game was 0-5 but we learned a lot. The last game was cancelled because of a thunderstorm. But I really think we came together during the trip!

Rappolt: Any last words? What will you be doing the rest of the summer?

MIllen and Szalkowski: We are looking forward to the season, when we have the whole team in camp. Millen said she will be working for her uncle, and Szalkowski will be working earning extra money for the fall. Both will continue to play hockey and remain sharp.