Last year, Penn field hockey’s opponents probably had one plan to keep the ball out of their net: find Alexa Hoover and keep the ball as far away from her as possible. Now? It’s not quite so simple.
In 2015, the then-sophomore scored 27 goals and added nine assists, good enough for exactly half of the total goals produced by the entire team. This year, she’s not even the leading goalscorer.
That’s no knock on Hoover; seven games into the season she’s produced three goals and four assists, good enough for an average of 1.43 points per game so far this season, tied for first on the team. But now, we see players all over the field producing at this level for the Quakers.
The player who has made the biggest jump in production this season has been junior Rachel Huang. Listed as both a forward and midfielder on the roster, Huang has added four goals and two assists so far this season, tying her for first place with Hoover for the lead in points and with sophomore Sofia Palacios for the lead in goals.
After accumulating five goals and two assists in the first two seasons of her career for the Red and Blue, Huang is on pace to smash her previous production and help lead the Quakers’ pursuit of an Ivy League championship and bid to the NCAA Tournament. Despite this, she is quick to acknowledge the entire team for her helping her succeed.
“I think it’s just a result of the whole team’s hard work and practice that we’ve put in. I think having a larger role is just a result of the way that the team helps you build your skill,” said Huang after the team's weekend game against Syracuse.
“Over the years you get a lot more playing experience, you get a lot more playing time. All the girls on the team help you get better and better every single year. There’s so many girls contributing on this team right now, and it shows how we’re working together really well.”
Another group that has seen their role in the offense increase are the backs. Three players who are listed as backs on the roster — senior captain Claire Kneizys, sophomore Paige Meily and freshman Alexa Schneck have all added their names to scoresheet this season.
Kneizys and Schneck both have a goal to their name so far this season while Meily has added three assists for the Quakers as a part of their short corner unit.
“I’m really just honored to be in the position I’m in,” Meily said. “We have a great corner unit as a team which helps me get involved. I’m very excited to fill in some of the holes that we have from players graduating last year and just step up and take a more active role.”
“As a team we’ve never tried to base our offense around Alexa. It’s not like we get the ball and pass it to her and we score,” Kneizys said after the first weekend of the season. “Everyone is working together and I think [junior] Gina [Guccione] and Sofia have done a great job of stepping up. So it’s definitely a team offense but I don’t think it’s necessarily that different from last year.”
So what gives? The biggest aspect of the team is the flexibility of their roster. Guccione is the only player listed as a true midfielder on the roster. Every other midfielder is double-listed as either a forward and midfielder or midfielder and back. You may think that having a lack of defined positions could cause some confusion for the Quakers, but in reality, this flexibility lends to the playing style that they strive for.
“More and more, the direction of this program is towards a less traditional strategy," Penn coach Colleen Fink said. "So we may have some three-dimensional movement off the ball that’s hopefully going to create situations where you have a left middie playing center forward and a center forward playing right mid. If we’re moving appropriately off the ball and creating dynamic opportunities off the ball, then people should be playing some more versatile positions.”
Penn may still be working out the kinks in their offense, but one thing is clear: The Quakers will only become more dynamic as their team continues to improve upon a stellar 2015 campaign.
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