Field hockey gearing up for big season

The team huddles up (Photo Courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

At first glance the College’s field hockey team would seem to be on an uphill climb heading into the 2011 season after losing five of its 11 starters between last year’s New Jersey Athletic Conference championship team and graduation.

But Sharon Pfluger’s cupboard is hardly bare as the Lions look ahead to tomorrow’s season opener against Stevens Institute of Technology.

The Lions were the highest-ranked NJAC team in the Kookaburra/National Field Hockey Coaches Association preseason poll, taking the eight slot, even though they ranked second in their own conference’s preseason poll behind Rowan University.

Replacing some graduated players won’t be easy: Jessica Falcone, the Lions’ third leading scorer in 2010 on the offensive end of the field; Kristen O’Neil, third on the team in saves on the defensive side of things; and the all-around play by Mary Waller, a Third-Team All-American who finished first on the team in defensive saves (4) and second in assists (8). However, senior midfielder/forward Leigh Mitchell is confident that with the right mixture of players this year’s team can be just as effective.

“We lost quite a few key players that will be difficult to replace in the mid- and backfield,” said senior midfielder/forward Leigh Mitchell. “However, I think with the practice and improvement everyday, we should be able to find the right combination for our success this year.”

Back for the Lions are one of the most dangerous offensive duos in Division III field hockey in Mitchell and junior midfielder/forward Kathleen Notos. Mitchell is coming off a First Team All-American campaign that included 11 goals and 12 assists, while Notos hit the ground running in her first year on the Lions’ field hockey team with a team leading 17 goals and 40 points.

The defense is jam-packed with competitors as well, starting with last year’s NJAC Goaltender of the Year, Shannon Syciarz.

In front of Syciarz will be senior midfielder/defender Alex Okuniewicz, who has been named First Team All-NJAC the past two seasons, and junior defender Camille Passucci, who has received honorable mention her first two years with the Lions and plenty of praise from her teammates.

“I think Camille Passucci will be key this year in stabilizing our midfield,” Mitchell said. “She is an extremely smart and consistent player that will help fill the gaps we have from graduation.”

Junior forward Jillian Nealon is another firm believer that Passucci, along with Okuniewicz, will have a strong impact in 2011, but Nealon also throws out another name that might be a wild card for the Lions in 2011.

“So far the whole team has been stepping up, but you definitely feel like Camille Passucci and Alex Okunewicz have been playing really well in the midfield along with Lauren Pigott,” Nealon said. “The three of them make a very strong core for us.”

Pigott, a freshman midfielder who made a name herself at the College last year as a lacrosse player, did not get to compete in field hockey last year due to injury, but this season she will be one of the Lions’ key components in compensating for what was lost from 2010.

“I think we have a few big shoes to fill, but we definitely could have another successful season and hopefully advance even further in postseason,“ Mitchell said. “The core of returning players we have combined with the added promise of some newcomers should lead to an exciting season.”

But, Sharon Pfluger’s cupboard is hardly bare as the Lions look ahead to tomorrow’s season opener against Stevens Institute of Technology.

The Lions were the highest ranked NJAC team in the Kookaburra/National Field Hockey Coaches Association preseason poll, taking the eight slot, even though they ranked second in their own conference’s preseason poll behind Rowan University.

Replacing Jessica Falcone — the Lions’ third leading scorer in 2010 — on the offensive end of the field, Kristen O’Neil — third on the team in defensive saves — on the defensive side of things and the all-around play by Mary Waller — a Third Team All-American who finished first on the team in defensive saves (4) and second in assists (8) — won’t be easy. However, senior midfielder/forward Leigh Mitchell is confident that with the right mixture of players this year‘s team can be just as effective.

“We lost quite a few key players that will be difficult to replace in the mid and backfield,” said senior midfielder/forward Leigh Mitchell. “However I think with the practice and improvement everyday we should be able to find the right combination for our success this year.”

Back for the Lions are one of the most dangerous offensive duos in Division III field hockey in Mitchell and junior midfielder/forward Kathleen Notos. Mitchell is coming off an First Team All-American campaign that included 11 goals and 12 assists, while Notos hit the ground running in her first year on the Lions’ field hockey team with a team leading 17 goals and 40 points.

The defense is jam packed with competitors as well, starting with last year’s NJAC Goaltender of the Year, Shannon Syciarz

In front of Syciarz will be senior midfielder/defender Alex Okuniewicz, who has been named First Team All-NJAC the past two seasons, and junior defender Camille Passucci, who has received honorable mention her first two years with the Lions and plenty of praise from her teammates.

“I think Camille Passucci will be key this year in stabilizing our midfield,” Mitchell said. “She is an extremely smart and consistent player that will help fill the gaps we have from graduation.”

Junior forward Jillian Nealon is another firm believer that Passucci, along with Okuniewicz, will have a strong impact in 2011, but Nealon also throws out another name that might be a wild card for the Lions in 2011.

“So far the whole team has been stepping up, but you definitely feel like Camille Passucci ad Alex Okunewicz have been playing really well in the midfield along with Lauren Pigott,” Nealon said. “The three of them make a very strong core for us.”

Pigott, a freshman midfielder who made a name herself at The College last year as a lacrosse player, did not get to compete in field hockey last year due to injury, but this season she will be one of the Lions’ key components in compensating for what was lost from 2010.

“I think we have a few big shoes to fill, but we definitely could have another successful season and hopefully advance even further in postseason,“ Mitchell said. “The core of returning players we have combined with the added promise of some newcomers should lead to an exciting season.”