BY CAROLINE BOLLETINO
The Sacred Heart University field hockey team will be returning to the Northeast Conference (NEC) in the 2019-2020 academic year.
According to Athletic Communications, Sacred Heart is a full member of the NEC, and an associate member of the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).
“I’m excited to be back in the NEC,” said head coach Sydney Van Der Merwe. “It’s awesome and I’m over the moon.”
Since Van Der Merwe became head coach prior to the 2016 campaign, the team has only competed in the MAAC.
“Now we’re coming back to the family,” said Van Der Merwe. “It is a whole new chapter in the book.”
The NEC is similar to the MAAC, with the removal of Monmouth and the addition of Wagner College and Merrimack College. They will be competing against teams that they currently play against such as LIU Brooklyn, Rider, Fairfield and Bryant.
Members of the team describe the NEC as a competitive conference that will bring new challenges along with new teams.
“I’m excited to join the rest of our Division I sports in the NEC,” said junior defenseman Marlena Koellner.
Junior midfielder Kelsy Hopkins, feels that the NEC’s motto is displayed whenever the team takes the field for a practice or game.
“The NEC Conference emphasizes carrying both pride and will to succeed on and off the field,” said Hopkins. “That is something I think Sacred Heart field hockey demonstrates.”
The team can also help Sacred Heart gain points for the Commissioner’s Cup. According to the NEC website, the Commissioner’s Cup is awarded on the overall excellence of a Department of Athletics. The team hopes to see their work on and off of the field pay off in this case scenario.
“I think they’re focused on the season,” said Van Der Merwe. “Obviously they’re excited to be back in the NEC, because like I said before, ‘it’s part of the family,’ but they’re focused.”
Currently, the team is 6-3 overall, with wins over Lock Haven, Lehigh, Towson, Saint Francis, Dartmouth, and Villanova.
“We’re definitely looking to make the MAAC Tournament this year,” said sophomore midfielder Bridget LaRiccia. “But it is great to see us getting closer to being an all NEC school.”
The team looks to add more wins to their record as they continue to prepare themselves for conference play, which begins on Sept. 28, against Fairfield University.
“We need to keep doing what we are doing,” said Van Der Merwe. “We have to take small steps going forward.”
Van Der Merwe is also constructing the team for the future, as he has been recruiting and is actively looking to acquire several additions.
“We have some really good recruits coming next year that I’m really excited about,” said Van Der Merwe. “We’re also looking ahead to 2020.”