By Ryan Sanudo
The Sacred Heart University field hockey team has wrapped up the majority of its non-conference schedule and will begin Northeast Conference (NEC) play on Sept. 29 at Monmouth University.
After losing three games in a row, Sacred Heart beat Towson University 4-1 at Johnson Field, the Pioneers home facility in New Haven. Head coach Sidney Van Der Merwe’s approach to stopping his team’s losing streak started with possession. Sacred Heart did not allow one shot on goal in the first period.
“We were working for a week on our tipping and natural corners. That was the key of the game,” said Van Der Merwe. “Now when it comes to conference, our veterans know how to practice, which can let the pieces come together.”
Last year, the team failed to win a game before conference play. Sacred Heart already has three wins under their belt as they prepare for their first conference game against Monmouth. Senior midfielder Nichole Tolli is optimistic with the difference a year has made.
“Our scoring is something that we have changed compared to last year,” said Tolli. “Last year we had a total of maybe four goals. This year we’ve already doubled, maybe tripled it. I think that’s a big positive in what we’re improving on.”
On the other hand, the team still has to work on the little things in order to win consistently.
“Our communication and movement on the field needs work,” said Tolli. “I think we’ve improved way more than last year in those departments. But I think it’s definitely something that we can step up more.”
The 2017 team features seven freshmen: Emily Alexis, Lucinda Cahill, Kayla-Bedel Franklin, Bridget LaRiccia, Hailey Power, Alyssa Stevens and Liz Tosto. They all come from different places ranging from Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Australia.
Junior goalie Emily Degennaro praised the freshman class and their commitment to the team so far.
“They have the most intensity I’ve ever seen a class come in with,” said Degennaro. “They have so much fire and grit. They want to go out there. They want to win. They want to do whatever they can to help even if it’s on the sideline.”
The Pioneers have a busy schedule in October ahead of them. Two key games in a row that have Sacred Heart eyeing for revenge are at Bryant and Rider, opponents they lost to last year.
“Rider is a very good team. They are very fast. Bryant is good as well. In terms of matching I think our team has improved already in terms of how our season has already gone, said Van Der Merwe. “We just have to be smart and play our game.”
Sacred Heart is hoping to improve in conference play, as they went 1-15 in the conference last year. Van Der Merwe is in his second year as head coach and can see his team’s maturity right off the bat.
“We’re working on what we’ve improved on throughout the season and will put that to conference games. It’s that simple.”