Field Hockey Back Dancing in NCAA Tournament
By Aaron Cheris
After a thrilling run to the Final Four last season, the University at Albany field hockey team took the first step toward a repeat run by clinching the America East conference championship with a 2-0 win over the University of Maine on Sunday afternoon at Alumni Turf.
“We thought Maine would be a little fatigued from two overtime games coming in, but they were not, they played awesome,” UAlbany Head Coach Phil Sykes said. “We were very thankful to hang on.”
In the first half, UAlbany (19-2, 8-1 America East) opened the scoring about 10 minutes in after earning a penalty stroke. Leading scorer Paula Heuser stepped up and converted into the bottom left corner from the spot to give the Great Danes a 1-0 lead. Maine (19-4, 7-2 America East) goalie Emma Cochran dove the right way, but couldn’t make the save.
“I was a little bit nervous but at the last second I decided to switch to the other corner,” Heuser said. Maine came close to an equalizer after a couple penalty corners.
However, UAlbany’s defense, led by goalkeeper Maxi Primus, denied all opportunities to the Black Bears. Three of her four saves came in the first half. As the first half drew to an end, the Great Danes capitalized on another good chance. Anna Bottino made a good pass from the endline to Kelsey Briddell in front of the Maine net. Briddell went one on one against Cochran, and scored after faking a shot to give the Great Danes a 2-0 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the Great Danes defense tightened as Maine desperately tried to get back into the game. A pair of penalty corners for the Black Bears weren’t converted, and the Great Danes held on for the 2-0 victory.
Sykes was pleased with how his team’s defense stood tall in the tournament, as UAlbany allowed just one total goal in three tournament victories.
“Our whole defensive back four from Fiori Van Rijswijk, Frederike Helmke, Jaclyn Hibbs, and Laura Paige, I thought played excellent the whole game under some pretty big pressure at times,” Sykes said. Bottino was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for her strong performances in UAlbany’s three victories. The championship is the second straight one for UAlbany, and the first one since the America East conference realignment prior to this season.
“Winning this back to back and showing that last season wasn’t lucky, it’s great,” Heuser said. “It feels very good.”
As time expired, the Great Danes piled on top of Primus before hugging and dumping a cooler of water on Coach Sykes.
“When I started here, we were one of the bottom five worst teams in division one. To get out of that scene and move up to finally winning, that is pretty satisfying,” Sykes said.
Next, the Great Danes will begin the NCAA Tournament against Boston College on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. at the University of Connecticut.
“Our motto all year has been one game at a time. As with anything, we’re going into the game trying to do our best that day, and hopefully good things come our way,” Sykes said.