Field hockey thinking champs again

(Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

Head coach Sharon Pfluger has always seen the talent in senior defender Camille Passucci and she now believes the rest of the country will too.

Passucci was the glue that held the ship together for the College last year on its way to a National Championship, contributing on both ends of the field. This year, she will lead the Lions as one of six seniors on a quest to repeat last year’s glory.

“She’s really become an outstanding field hockey player,” Pfluger said. “She works very hard, is an excellent leader and is demanding of the other kids. So, even though she was in the limelight (last year), now she will be even more so I think.”

Passucci, who led the Lions with 43 points last year, will be the center piece of a senior class that also includes forward Caitlyn Jenkins, defender Christy Wham, defender Meredith Jeffries, forward Jillian Nealon and forward/midfielder Cassandra Martin.

Pfluger knows there’s a lot to miss from last year’s squad, but she expects this year’s senior class, along with sophomores Lauren Pigott and Victoria Martin, to set the tone for a team attempting to be the first team at the College to repeat as National Champions since 1996.

“I expect those girls to pace the team,” Pfluger said. “I think that’s the biggest thing (when you lose seniors), they say, ‘Okay, it’s our turn.’ So as long as they step up and take that leadership role, that will be a good direction for us.”

The Lions head into the season ranked as the No. 1 team in the 2012 Penn Monto/National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division III Preseason Poll, but Pfluger said her team doesn’t feel any added pressure.

“I don’t think it’s any greater challenge this year than in years past because we, as a coaching staff, have high expectations and the players have high expectations,” Pfluger said. “We want to meet those expectations and we work so hard to reach those expectations.”

The Lions lost a lot of talent with the graduation of forwards Leigh Mitchell and Kathleen Notos, defenders Alex Okuniewicz and Jessica Persicketti and goalkeeper Shannon Syciarz. However, a rash of injuries early last season gave the younger girls plenty of opportunities to play and the “kids got a lot of experience,” according to Pfluger.

Two players that the Lions hope continue  developing are sophomore forwards Erin Waller and Erin Healy. Waller ended an impressive freshmen campaign (29 points) with two goals and an assist in the National Championship game — a 3-1 victory over Middlebury College — while Healy collected a few starts herself and provided valuable minutes of the bench.

The Lions will also benefit from the comebacks of junior forward Sarah Cummings, sophomore defender Marissa Pennypacker and Victoria Martin — all of whom went down with season-ending injuries last year.

The biggest question mark to start this season may be in the cage where sophomore Amanda Krause looks to replace Syciarz. Pfluger said that Krause was a “very good” high school goalie, but that she got even better last year and her small sample size — almost 60 minutes of play without surrendering a goal — in 2011 is encouraging heading into this season.

The bar has been set high for the Lions, who come into the season on a 14-game winning streak, but right now, the Lions are just working day-by-day to piece together what their starting lineup will look like when the season opens against Stevens Institute of Technology on Aug. 31, according to Pfluger.

“We work through that in each session,” Pfluger said. “Where is the right combination, where is the natural chemistry between players? It’s always a challenge, but they do what we ask of them and we are just hoping to bring them to the next level every day.”