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Field Hockey ready for Final Four battle

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By Megan Salle

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Nov. 20, 2014

Photo from UAlbany Athletics/Beth Strauss, BravoSierra UAlbany is in the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Photo from UAlbany Athletics/Beth Strauss, BravoSierra
UAlbany is in the Final Four for the first time in school history.

After stunning Maryland last weekend, the University at Albany field hockey team enters the NCAA semifinals this weekend. This is the furthest any UAlbany team has gone in the NCAA tournament. The Great Danes meet the University of Connecticut Huskies in College Park, Md at 4:45 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 21. The winner will face either Syracuse University or the University of North Carolina for the national championship at 1 p.m. in College Park, Md. on Sunday. The ASP recently talked to team captain Amy Nicklin, leading scorer Paula Heuser, and head coach Phil Sykes as the Great Danes prepare for their first Final Four appearance in school history.

As the senior captain, will you say anything special before leaving the locker room to take on UConn?

“I tell the girls everyday as long as you can come off the field and say you left everything on the field, we have nothing to worry about. Everything we got is enough to win and I believe that,” Nicklin, a senior, said.

What is the mindset going into your next game against UConn?

“We know we can’t beat these teams now, but we still have an attitude of having a good game and see what happens,” Heuser, a sophomore, said.

What does your coach say before big games?

“He gives us the same talk. He tells us to go out here and have fun. He tells us to believe in ourselves and he knows what we are capable of more than anyone. He sees us on our good days and bad days,” Nicklin said. “All the coaches together, as a whole I couldn’t ask for anything more. They know how to get the best of out us.”

What are you feelings being in the Final Four?

“It was surreal to get through the first game. I thought we were really capable, but going against the ACC champs, you think of them in all sports and that’s one of the highest levels,” Sykes said. “It was a tough challenge and to get through them and not have an emotional dip after you’re so high after that. It was impressive particularly in Maryland to get on the field and all you see are national champion signs and Final Four signs. And our kids weren’t daunted by any of it. The whole drive back I was speechless, like what just happened.”

How special is this UAlbany team?

“This late in the year, with all the traveling we have done, you can sick of each other quite easily. They have been so fun to be around,” Sykes said. “I’ve been amazed since last year when we lost in the America East final and the season ended abruptly and we had a good team. We thought we could have done well last year. They’ve bonded together since that time, and were really on a mission.”

Will there be anything added to your pre game speech?

“No, a lot of people look at what we do and want the inspiring speech and with tears coming down. We try to keep it real simple and calm. The sport is so emotional,” Sykes said. “With us we want to look at the process of what we do and not so much the finish line. In order to beat them we have to do a lot of things first. We are playing against such good opponents that if you daydream for a second, you’ll be down quick.”

What do you expect from UConn, the defending national champions?

“The biggest thing when you get to the NCAA tournament is it’s so easy to get distracted by the cameras and all the glamour and glitz. We just want to get them focused. I know I talked to our lacrosse coaches, softball coaches, basketball coaches, and if you can get there and play what you are capable of, I think that is victory,” Sykes said. “Could you win? Sure, you could, but if you go there and start looking ahead and a couple of people freak out, it could be a domino effect. It can go south quick.”

How does it feel to be a part of UAlbany history?

“It’s overwhelming.” Sykes said. “Unlike I think a lot of ultra competitive division 1 schools, we are very much a family here. Every time something good happens, we are all emailing and texting. Just to be in the same light as a lot of these other guys who have won before and have done good things, it just feels good because it’s a part of Albany. And so many people around you are happy for you.”

Photo from UAlbany Athletics/Beth Strauss, BravoSierra Nicklin (far right) and UAlbany will need to play at their best to beat the defending national champions.
Photo from UAlbany Athletics/Beth Strauss, BravoSierra
Nicklin (far right), Heuser (center) and UAlbany will need to play at their best to beat the defending national champions.

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