The follow-up to a thrilling campaign that fell just short of an Ivy League title begins Friday for Penn field hockey, which will face Lehigh at Ellen Vagelos field.
The first of four home games to open up the season, Friday’s matchup will offer the first glimpse at the Red and Blue’s reassembled roster, with the second coming on Sunday against Bucknell.
Roles need to be claimed in all areas, but perhaps most importantly on the defensive end.
The departure of first team All-Ivy goalie Carly Sokach — who was consistently stellar last season — leaves a large pair of shoes to fill between the posts.
Without the luxury of Sokach’s reliability in net, the Quakers hope that either junior Emily Guthier or freshman Liz Mata — neither of whom has seen collegiate action — will step up and provide a strong presence in net.
As of Monday, the team had not yet announced its starting goalkeeper.
Coach Colleen Fink realizes that Penn’s new keeper will naturally face challenges entering a new level of competition, and as such, she is stressing a complete team effort on the defensive end.
“We’re just trying to build our defense and disallow shots,” Fink said. “The fewer the shots, the less the goalkeeper has to tend to, and that’s going to be the strategy moving forward for this season.”
In the offseason, the Red and Blue reinforced their defense with the addition of transfers Claire Kneizys and Nicole Mackin.
The two backs’ ability to coordinate and mesh with the team's returning defenders will be crucial to keeping the pressure off the Quakers’ net in the early going.
With the electrifying Jasmine Cole also gone, Fink is looking for freshmen to make an impact on the offensive end as well.
“We’ve brought in some really exciting players in Alexa Hoover, Gina Guccione and Rachel Huang,” she said. “I think they are really going to be able to contribute offensively this year.”
The offensive end figures to be the Quakers’ biggest strength this season, as the squad returns a talented core of the Three E’s: Emily Corcoran, Elise Tilton and Elizabeth Hitti.
The trio accounted for 29 of the team’s 58 goals last season and had a knack for scoring at opportune times.
Fink feels her offense can get back up and running well against Lehigh (0-2). And she has good reason to believe in her team's ability to do so: in the Mountain Hawks' most recent matchup against St. Francis (Pa.), they gave up five goals in defeat.
Going up against a winless opponent, starting the season off with a win may be realistic for the Red and Blue.
But with Friday being her squad’s first time out, Fink’s main focus is on how her unit executes.
“Being this early in the season, you need to go in and focus on yourself,” she said. “We need to focus on what our strengths are going to be and work out some of the kinks. That’s exactly what this game is going to be.”
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