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Sophomore Alexa Hoover will be relied on to supply much of Penn's offensive firepower.

Credit: Thomas Munson

For many of Penn’s fall sports teams, there exists the recurring theme that youth plays a key role. For Penn field hockey, this axiom remains relevant.

Because more than half of the Quakers' starting lineup graduated last year, many of the current freshmen and sophomores were afforded the opportunity to win a starting role this preseason, and they have run with it. They are now looking to make a name for themselves on a daily basis as the season begins.

On the back end, sophomore goalkeeper Liz Mata is expected to start for the Red and Blue this season after dealing with a concussion in 2014. She and freshman Reina Kern have formed a formidable duo at goalkeeper.

“Although Mata didn’t see much time in the goal cage last year, we had all spring with her and she was able to lead us to an undefeated spring season,” assistant coach Katelyn O’Brien said. “And Reina is definitely competitive, so it’s a nice competitive feel with the goalkeepers.”

Defensively, the team loses stalwarts like Helene Caniglia and MaryRose Croddick, but does return starting junior Claire Kneizys. Also essential to the defensive game plan in 2015 will be freshman midfielder Selena Garzio. 

As the back end of the diamond at midfielder, Garzio will be relied upon primarily to help out the backs. Her play so far has earned plenty of praise from sophomore attacker Alexa Hoover, who called her a player to watch in a July interview.

“She’s doing an amazing job. It’s a very important position she’s playing,” Hoover said. “She has a very smart on-field awareness, field presence, strong skills, and I think she’s going to be even better now [than previously expected].”

The offense looks to be much the same for the Quakers and should continue to be the team’s strong suit. 

Hoover is the team’s only sophomore to have earned a starting role as a freshman. Entering the season, she recognizes the possible pitfall of a sophomore slump. After all, her play in 2014 marks one of the best individual performances in Penn field hockey history, meaning that expectations will continue to ride high heading into the season.

“In the weight room, it’s about keeping things up and getting stronger and faster. On the field, it’s about not overthinking it,” Hoover said. “A lot of times you try too hard to do what you did last year, and that can get you into the sophomore slump. You just have to focus on one thing at a time.”

As a whole, the team offers strength and numbers in its youth. Although they may not all be starting for Penn when the team opens play against Liberty on Friday, each player could see significant time this year. 

“I think they all can contribute. That’s exciting to see,” O’Brien said. “The earlier you can get them in and get them experience, the better it will be in the long run.”

Of course, the underclassmen’s period for success is not limited to this year. Garzio is especially keen on the team’s youth movement and believes that freshmen and sophomores will have the opportunity to find their role on the team in the coming seasons. 

“We all have different playing styles so I think that once it comes together, it creates a nice group.” Garzio said. “I think we all have something to bring to the table, and we have good diversity on the team."

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