Final Four repeat the goal for Great Danes
By Kelsey Auman
September 8, 2015
After becoming the first University at Albany team to reach the national Final Four in 2014, UAlbany field hockey is determined to make another deep postseason run. The Danes were ranked No.7 by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) in their first poll, which is their highest all-time preseason ranking.
UAlbany coach Phil Sykes boasts an impressive lineup of both returning players and freshman. Goalkeeper Maxi Primus, who led the nation with a goals against average of 1.03, is back in the crease. Primus and returners Jaclyn Hibbs and Fiori Van Risjwijk anchor a strong back line that held opponents scoreless in 10 games last season.
Offensively, the Danes are led by returners Van Risjwijk, Laura Page, and Paula Heuser. The trio led the Danes in points last season, and all three were selected for both NFHCA All-Region and America East First Team.
Heuser, last year’s NFHCA National Player of the Year, concluded the 2014 season leading the NFHCA in points per game (3.0). The junior is the first player in history to win America East Midfielder of the Year in back to back seasons. She finished last year with a team-leading 29 goals and 11 assists for 69 points, including four game winning goals.
Heuser says that her team is, “trying to find their identity this year,” after having so much success last year as the underdog.
She is confident that the Danes will be able to achieve their ultimate goal of becoming America East Champions by, “setting small goals,” and, “taking it one game at a time.”
Heuser also noted that, while this year’s freshman class is exceptionally large, they are talented and, “integrating well into the team.”
Six of the seven newcomers have experience in national tournaments.
Last year, UAlbany won 20 games en route to its fourth America East Title in as many years. The No. 7 Danes have already been able to build on their nationwide best 14-game winning streak last year.
This past weekend, the Great Danes earned 3-1 victories at both Miami of Ohio and Ohio State on the road to open the season. UAlbany improved to 3-0 with a 1-0 win at Hofstra on Tuesday.
Phil Sykes and his team have a difficult schedule this season featuring only seven home games. They play No.3 Maryland on Friday September 11 in a rematch of the NCAA Second Round.
In that game, the Danes prevailed 2-1 to become only the second-ever team to defeat Maryland at home in the NCAA Tournament.
UAlbany will have to adjust to a new America East format this season, as five West Coast schools have been added to the conference.
The West Division consists of Cal, Pacific, Stanford, and UC Davis.
UAlbany, Maine, New Hampshire, UMass Lowell, and Vermont make up the East Division.
Four teams from each division will be eligible for the NCAA tournament, with seeding determined by the results of each team playing each other twice.
The Danes face No. 2 North Carolina in their home opener at Alumni Field Sunday Sept. 13 at 1 p.m. The America East Championship will also be hosted by UAlbany this fall.