NORTON, MA- After seeing three straight seasons end in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Tournament semifinals, including the last two in overtime, 10th-year Wheaton College head field hockey coach Rebecca Begley is blunt when discussing her team's expectations for the 2009 season.
"They have their eyes on winning the NEWMAC Tournament, and we think we're in a position to contend again this year," said Begley, who has led the Lyons to 40 wins since 2006, the most victories in any three-year span in program history. "We have four seniors that are all going to start, and they're excited about the prospect of what their final season could bring."
Those seniors thought their play date on August 28 was the team's best since they joined the program, a pleasant surprise for Begley considering a handful of players were out of position that day and no regular lineup had been employed during preseason due to injuries. Wheaton held a 6-2 scoring edge against a trio of Division III counterparts and Division II Franklin Pierce University.
For a team that had a 12-7 season, including a 6-2 league showing that left it tied for second in the NEWMAC standings for the second straight year, the Lyons actually only narrowly outscored opponents, 33-31 a year ago. That the team finished five games above .500 can be attributed to an 8-2 mark in one-goal games, with a cohesive defense responsible for much of the success.
"Defense provides a huge sense of pride for our team," said Begley. "I always coach from a defensive perspective and focus on defense on the whole field. Our defensive corner crew prides itself in shutting down opponents' corners, and being on that crew is a highly-coveted responsibility."
The Lyons began 2008 with a 4-5 record before going 8-1 in their next nine games, ultimately coming up short against Wellesley College, 2-1 during an extra session in a NEWMAC Tournament semifinal. With an offense that Begley expects to be better than last year's and a defense laden with veterans, Wheaton looks to continue the program's recent surge. Begley's coaching staff is filled out by fourth-year assistant Laurie Magoon, third-year assistant Patricia Zini, and 2009 graduate Alisa Ardito, who returns to the program after a standout playing career.
For the second straight year, senior Andrea Bagley (Foxboro, MA/Foxboro) will be the lone goalkeeper on the roster, looking to become the first Lyon to play every second in net during consecutive seasons since Gretchen Flahive '89 in 1987 and 1988. In her initial season as a starter last fall, Bagley led the NEWMAC in save percentage (.823), tied for first in shutouts (5) and drew all-league and National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) All-New England laurels. Bagley, who also pitches for the softball team, finished 12-7 with a 1.59 goals against average.
A former forward and midfielder, senior Rachel Alfiero (Cape Elizabeth, ME/Cape Elizabeth) looks to utilize her speed during her debut season as a defender, while Cassie Abel (Windham, NH/Salem) has started the past 45 contests in the backfield. Abel will be a first-time captain, while classmate Alex Block (Saratoga, CA/Saratoga) enters her second season as a captain after leading the Lyons with seven goals from the midfield in 2008. Block, who is tied for ninth in program history in each career points and goals, landed on the NFHCA All-New England first team last fall while also earning an all-conference accolade.
Four of Wheaton's five juniors are expected to hold down starting jobs, including Julia Atwood (Concord, MA/Brooks School) and Jessica Strock (Centerville, MA/Barnstable) on the forward line. Strock missed all but the season opener last year due to injury after netting seven markers as a freshman. Midfielder Margaux Bolte (Belmont, MA/Belmont) contributed four assists last fall, back Ashley English (Watertown, MA/Watertown) will start for the third straight year, while Marisha Gadowski (Quincy, MA/Notre Dame Academy) is competing for time at forward.
Sophomore forward Emily Asack (Stoughton, MA/Stoughton) came back from injury in time for the final eight games of 2008, providing a trio of two-goal performances down the stretch and tying for second on the squad with six markers. When classmate Bonnie Davies (Roxbury, CT/Shepaug Valley) returns from injury, she is expected to slide right into a starting defensive role, while sophomore Catherine Fitzgerald (Charlton, MA/Shepherd Hill Regional) will start during Davies' absence and should also see time off the bench as a midfielder and a forward.
Sophomore backs Carmela Luzi (Southbury, CT/Pomperaug Regional) and Tierney Richardson (North Attleboro, MA/North Attleboro) both provide depth, while Richardson could also appear in the midfield. Classmates Kathryn Ende (Hallowell, ME/Hall-Dale), Sarah Mott (Harvard, MA/Bromfield School) and Aliza Underhill (Corinth, ME/Central) are all working their way back from injuries. Ende and Mott can both play forward, while Mott also looks to see reserve action in the midfield. Underhill, a thrower on the track & field team, will provide a defensive presence.
Five freshmen join the fold, and Begley said two among them - Gillian Mann (Burlington, VT/Williston Northampton School) and Alex Smith (Suffield, CT/Suffield) - are capable of occupying any position on the field. Mann has been entrusted with a starting midfield assignment, while Smith gained experience in every portion of the field during preseason. Amy Samenuk (Ridgefield, CT/Suffield Academy) is a defender, while Azza Reineman (Manchester, MA/Pomfret School) and Kirsten Russell (Cumberland, ME/Greely) are in the midst of returning from injuries. Both could see time at forward, and Reineman also adds depth in the midfield.
Wheaton begins the season favorably, with eight of the first 12 contests set to occur at home. Following a two-game road trip to New York in mid-September, the Lyons welcome Mount Holyoke College to Norton for their NEWMAC opener on September 26. The Blue and White then hosts two-time defending national champion Bowdoin College on October 4 and five-time defending NEWMAC Tournament titlist Springfield College on October 10, as Begley's team looks forward to facing each on the Clark Field grass. The conference tournament starts on October 31.