The field hockey team is only three games into its season. In fact, it only just earned its first win Wednesday.

Yet coach Val Cloud already is confident that this year’s squad is superior to last year’s unit that went 6-11 overall.

“I’m really happy this year with the group that we have,” the 15th-year coach said. “I think — I know — it’s a stronger group than last year.”

The 2009 iteration of the Quakers (1-2) will have a unique opportunity to back up its coach’s claim this weekend when Penn travels to New England to take on Vermont (0-4) tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. and New Hampshire (1-2) Saturday at 2:30 p.m. All games are on Vermont’s campus as part of the Sheraton Catamount Field Hockey Classic.

Not only have the Red and Blue never played these two schools, but they also haven’t been outside of the Mid-Atlantic for a non-conference game since a 2000 West Coast swing in California.

With several freshmen seeing significant playing time, one might think traveling to play two never-before-seen teams 400 miles away will challenge the rookies.

Not so says Cloud.

“It’ll be a new experience for them,” she said. “They’ve never been on a college road trip before. They seem to be a pretty savvy group [so] I think they’ll have a good time.”

Vermont is clearly the weaker of the two teams: the Catamounts have scored one goal while conceding 11.

As such, they don’t have any players ranked in the top half of the America East Conference in any offensive category. However, senior goalkeeper Kristen Heavens is second in the conference with 10.25 saves per game.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, crushed Penn’s Ivy foe Brown, 6-1, but lost a pair of high-scoring matches to Big East teams (Syracuse, 5-3, and then-No. 20 Providence, 4-3).

The Wildcats are led by Meg Shea whose five goals in the team’s three games lead America East. That’s pretty impressive considering that the senior forward from Melrose, Mass., was a first team all-conference selection last year after scoring just 11 total goals.

She currently ranks 16th all-time in program history with 24 career goals. Though she would need 48 more to take over first place, if she gets just 10 more this year she’d be fifth all-time.

A strong forward might be bad news for Penn, since Cloud said she thought her team must improve its individual defense.

But if the Quakers can mark Shea, watch out.

“We could be a very dynamic team because we have that capability,” Cloud said.

— Associate Editor Jennifer Scuteri contributed reporting to this article.

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