The Utica College field hockey team looks to return to the Empire 8 tournament with all sights set on winning the championship for the fourth straight year.
The Pioneers have won three straight conference championships and although they lost 11 seniors from last year, they believe the newcomers will provide the tools they need in order to win.
“The team is very coachable,” head coach Sarah Elleman said. “The underclassmen are adjusting quickly, so we can change and mold the team throughout the season.”
UC hosted a tournament last Saturday and Sunday with all intentions on winning both games, and were able to split.
They faced SUNY Oneonta in their first game of the weekend. UC had not beaten the Red Dragons since 2009.
The Pioneers were heading into the weekend 0-1, but they didn’t let their season opener phase them in any way. The freshmen wasted no time adjusting to the collegiate level as Rebecca Kauffman netted the first goal of the game 56 seconds into the game with the help of senior Colleen Dowling with the assist. UC went into halftime leading 1-0, but it was far from over.
Senior goalie Kells Casey was able to hold off the Red Dragons throughout the game until senior Hannah Hayward was able to tie the game up 1-1 in the 60th minute. The game would remain tied until regulation ended with the contest heading into overtime.
The game ended up being a fight to the finish as they had to go into double-overtime in order to decide the victor. The Pioneers ended up finding a way to win as freshman Brittany Evans netted her first goal of her collegiate career as well as the game winner in the 86th minute. UC beat SUNY Oneonta 2-1.
In any sport winning in overtime is tough task, but the Pioneers kept fighting and found a way to put the ball in the back of the net.
“Overtime in field hockey is very difficult,” Elleman said. “There are four fewer players on each team, so there is a lot of running. They had to rely on each other, sub a lot and we came through in the clutch.”
The momentum was on the Pioneers’ side going into Sunday as they faced SUNY New Paltz. The Pioneers fell into a 2-0 deficit midway through the game, but did not give up the fight.
Sophomore Maria Orsino netted her first goal of the year, cutting the lead to 2-1, and again Dowling gave her the assist. The lone goal was all UC could get as they ended up losing the game 4-1. Dowling had six shots on the game, but could not find an opening.
The youth of the Pioneers seemed to show throughout the game, as New Paltz was the more experienced team.
“They (New Paltz) have a very good goalie as well as some talented field players,” Elleman said. “They were very disciplined and organized on the field. Our relative lack of experience made this game difficult.”
UC returns to the turf this weekend, facing RPI on Saturday and the University of Rochester on Sunday. Both teams are strong, but the Pioneers look to improve throughout practice this week to prepare for their opponents.
“Both games are going to be tough,” Elleman said. “We are just going to continue to work in practice and improve day by day.”