The Red and Blue’s field hockey team had a bittersweet 2015. After barreling through nationally ranked opponents weekly, the Quakers seemed poised to take back the Ivy League championship that had eluded them since 2004. However, the season finale against Princeton did not feature the end result that the team wanted.
Just ask Alexa Hoover, the incoming junior who capped off a record-breaking season with a heartbreaker of a finish. To her, that 2-1 overtime loss has her teammates chomping at the bit for another chance at the Tigers.
“It’s definitely a huge motivation for us because we really want that game back. It was definitely a close game the entire time and at least that was a good feeling because we know we were right there with them,” Hoover said. “That’s definitely going to motivate us to get it back because we were so close.”
That was Hoover’s first Ivy League championship game for the Quakers and may not be her last. Hoover’s freshman season in 2014 was very impressive – one of the best ever for a Penn freshman – but not enough to catapult the team to Ivy League title contention. In an interview from the previous summer, Hoover noted her concerns about the sophomore slump and her desire to avoid plateauing. This summer, Hoover recalls the concerns she had in 2015 and credits her breakout campaign to her offseason training regimen.
“I think I was definitely nervous about the sophomore slump that everyone talks about and I think that pushed me to make sure it didn’t happen. I did everything I could in the offseason coming into my sophomore season to make sure I was prepared to go beyond what I’ve done before.”
She avoided the sophomore curse and then some in 2015. Her 27 goals and 63 points were both record highs for the Quakers’ field hockey program. Hoover was also named Ivy League offensive player of the week four different times and finished second-team all-America. Also unique to the program, she was featured in Sports Illustrated and in a featurette on a local Pennsylvania news radio station. Suffice to say, Hoover’s 2015 season will go down as one of the best in Red and Blue history.
“It was one of the coolest things to ever happen to me,” Hoover said. “Usually you see senior players and junior players getting most of the attention. So to be a sophomore it was incredible and an honor to represent our team that way.”
Now Hoover and the Quakers are gearing up for the 2016 season. After progressing all the way to an Ivy League championship game last year, the team said goodbye to four seniors: two forwards, one midfield, and a back, three of whom were full-time starters in 2015.
The graduation of Nicole Mackin, a former integral member of the backfield, leaves a huge hole in front of the net. After missing 2015 with injury, rising junior Madison Hendry looks to return to form after a successful 2014 campaign. In her first playing time since the injury, Hendry provided a steady presence defending the net in the team’s spring tournaments.
Having a reliable defense has been key to the offense’s success. For field-stretching forwards like Hoover and rising junior Gina Guccione, steady backfield play – which in 2015 came from Mackin, rising senior and captain Claire Kneizys, and now-juniors Jasmine Li and goalkeeper Liz Mata – gives the attack the confidence to go for gold.
“I trust that no matter where I am on the field they will be able to get me the ball or one of the other forwards the ball,” Hoover said. “With the defense that we have, I can trust that they’ll be able to handle everything in the way that they know how to handle it so I 100% trust my defense with that.”
At midfield, Alex Agathis leaves the lineup after starting every contest her senior year. A bit-part player in 2015, incoming sophomore Paige Meily looks to play a larger role this fall for the Quakers after earning extensive playing time late last season.
Also at midfield, Elizabeth Hitti graduated in May after setting the program record in assists. In 2015, Hitti connected with Hoover for a large portion of the then-sophomore’s goals and was the team’s most talented playmaker.
“The chemistry our forward line had is something that doesn’t come around too often so it’s going to be a little difficult at first to get used to the fact that she’s not going to be there,” Hoover said.
Finally, at attack, the team loses Stephanie Honig, who made the jump from the school’s club field hockey program. The depletion, both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench, could be a concern for 2016’s squad.
When it comes to pinpointing new starters, Hoover is proud of the progress that rising sophomore Sofia Palacios made in her freshman campaign and figures that she will challenge for a large share of playing time in the upcoming season.
“Sofia was definitely able to step up,” Hoover said, “and I [also] think that our incoming freshmen are going to be able to do a good job of getting used to the college level.”
Of course, the team lost four seniors, but just like any other year, incoming freshmen will help to fill in the gaps. Coach Colleen Fink announced the team’s six recruits this spring, and they will look to make an early impact. Hoover has familiarity with two incoming freshmen: Laura Shelton – who played at Perkiomen Valley High School, Hoover’s high school rival – and goalkeeper Ava Rosati – who played with Hoover for the United States Women’s Indoor Hockey.
The team has not yet played with the incoming freshmen in a formal setting, but players have been able to catch glimpses of the newcomers’ work in recruitment camps. Hoover is impressed by their play and points out midfielder Alexa Schneck as a key contributor for 2016.
“One of the mid-backs, [Schneck], moves the ball real well. She’s a smart player; she’s not a selfish player. She has very good skills and field presence,” Hoover said.
Hoover enters her junior season looking to repeat an unbelievable sophomore performance. However, a torn meniscus that she suffered earlier in the spring curtailed a large part of her offseason of training.
Still, this is not the first time that Hoover has undergone that kind of setback – she tore her ACL and meniscus as a junior in high school – and rebounded well in her senior year at Methacton. Hoover is certain that the meniscus injury will not affect her play in preseason, let alone the regular season.
Hopefully she is right — if the team plans to take down the Tigers in 2016, Hoover’s health will certainly be a key factor to monitor next fall.
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