Field Hockey dominates UNH to win America East title
By Jasmine Robinson
Nov. 11, 2014
With their 12th straight win, The University at Albany Great Danes are America East Champions after Saturday’s 5-0 shutout over the University of New Hampshire. Everything was on the line for the Danes in what could have been their season finale, but UAlbany rose to the occasion, earning the title for the first time in two years.
UNH ended UAlbany’s season last year in New Hampshire with a close 3-2 victory. The Danes faced the Wildcats earlier this season, avenging this loss in their 4-2 win. Despite their previous performance, the Danes played UNH fresh.“You can’t take old games and go from that,” senior midfielder and team captain Amy Nicklin said. “Every game is a new game.” On the defensive end, Nicklin’s stick work was important in keeping the Wildcats out of UAlbany territory for most of the game. She was awarded as an All Championship Midfielder for her hard work in this game, and the previous round’s win over Fairfield.
The Great Danes started the game off strong, earning a corner within the first few moments of the first half. Forward Pahila Arnold capitalized on a penalty corner just four minutes into the game, giving UAlbany a 1-0 lead. Offensively, UAlbany dominated as their crisper passing game pushed all of UNH’s players to work more defensively. UNH goalkeeper Carlie Tarbell held up against several incredible shots taken by the Danes, making six of her eight saves in the first half of the game.
Sophomore Paula Heuser worked intensely in the midfield offensively, but was taken out of the game by a sudden injury to her forehead and knee during a corner. Despite sustaining significant cuts, Heuser returned to the game 15 minutes later bandaged up, but not down for the count. “I was so ready to go back in and fight back,” Heuser said.
“I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to play,” said coach Phil Sykes. “But [Paula] is a tough kid. She said, ‘Wrap it up, and I’ll get back out there.’”
Heuser was named to the All Championship Team and Most Outstanding Performer in the tournament, a well-earned title that she described as a, “Nice side effect.” Heuser added, “The main thing is that we won, that’s what I care about.”
While Heuser was out, Midfielder Anna Bottino scored off of a fumbled defensive pass between two UNH players, raising the score 2-0. Weak passes seemed to be UNH’s flaw throughout the game, and the reason that UAlbany was able to spend most of both halves in their territory. Despite a yellow card issued to Echo Bretz not long after the goal, UAlbany slowed the game down and made concise passing choices, playing strong even while man down. Laura Page hustled up to outrun UNH’s offensive, working as a truly versatile midfielder while the team was still short a player.
The Wildcats received their first offensive corner with about nine minutes left in the first half, but a poor stop on the inserted pass allowed for Page to come in and easily clear the ball.
Maxi Primus, UAlbany’s sophomore goalkeeper, made two big saves to shut UNH out of the first half, despite the Wildcats increase in offensive pressure. Defensively, irresponsible choices were made by UNH, allowing the Great Danes to finish out the half still on their side of the field. Even though Heuser is a power player, having four players marking her in the UNH circle wasn’t the best use of field resources.
In the second half, UNH returned revitalized, earning a corner within the first six minutes. Primus came through with the save, and the Danes worked together to shut the Wildcats out of their circle.
The half was just what Heuser needed to recharge. Within three minutes, she scored two goals, the first with a clean assist from Nicklin on a corner. On her second goal, Heuser took the ball the length of the field unchallenged, beating Tarbell with a powerful lift shot. Bretz scored the final UAlbany goal off of a fast break pass from Page, giving UAlbany their fifth goal and a comfortable lead.
The game was more evenly matched in the second half, which influenced UAlbany to play more on the defensive end. But their five midfielder lineup made this an easy feat. Primus made four saves during the second half, but the Wildcats just didn’t have the offensive game to convert to goals in the UAlbany circle.
“After last year and seeing how disappointed we were, this is huge,” assistant coach Michelle Simpson said. “I was confident we were going to win and now it’s reality.” Simpson added, “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves but our goal for the whole season was an America East Championship. Whatever happens after this is a bonus. We’re ready to see where the rest of this ride can go.”
“This is what we wanted from the season. As a team, we have a great bunch of individuals, all 17 of us contribute to everything. And we knew if we played our game and we played our game well, it was in the bag,” Nicklin said. “I think the score flattered us a little bit, but it was a great game. ”
The Danes are playing Wake Forest University in Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 15, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. “We’re overjoyed,” Sykes, who has been with UAlbany for the last 11 seasons, said happily. This is his fourth America East conference Championship. Sykes will now lead the team into their fourth NCAA Tournament next Saturday, but everyone is content for now.
“We want to take one game after another,” Heuser said. “But we’re just happy we can continue to practice and just have fun.”