Zach Thomann, Sports Editor
The Utica College field hockey team has started off the season in winning fashion with a 5-2 record. In six games, the Pioneers have already matched last year’s win total of five with hopes to keep its winning ways for the whole season.
In her second year as interim head coach, Nicole Kieffer thinks that last year’s struggles have impacted this season.
“You could tell everyone had a different attitude this year,” Kieffer said. “As soon as we got back on the first day, I knew we had potential.”
Kieffer said that the team worked hard in the offseason to prepare and is excited about how devoted her athletes are. She credits losing for motivating the team.
“You can’t force the team to get motivated,” Kieffer said. “It’s something that can’t be taught. Sometimes the best teacher is losing.”
Kieffer praises her team’s ability to be composed after allowing goals during a game. She calls it “short term memory loss.”
“There has been multiple games where we were losing,” Kieffer said. “But the team never let that affect them.”
Utica has shown resilience this season scoring 13 out of its 17 goals in the second half of games. Senior Madison Williams believes that having a strong bond between teammates has put the team in a good position to win.
“We are very team based this year,” Williams said. “We are not one without each other. It’s been a goal this year to move as a team and to focus on the success of the team rather than individually.”
Williams said that her main goal is to win an Empire 8 conference championship and graduate with something to remember.
Kieffer said she would love to win the conference, but her goal is to make her athletes better every day. She lets each athlete pick what they need to get better at to ultimately help the team get better as a whole.
“I don’t want to focus on one thing that someone may be great at and others may struggle at,” Kieffer said. “I want to see everyone improve at the same rate.”
Kieffer hasn’t changed her coaching tactics from last year, but believes that if anything has changed, it is the team’s attitude. Junior forward Rylee Meelan is one example of a changed attitude.
Meelan wasn’t happy with her performance last year which pushed her to work harder.
“I was in the gym everyday this summer trying to get better,” Meelan said.
Meelan thinks that her hard work has helped her become the leader in goals(5) and shot attempts(41) on the team.
Another standout on the team is senior goaltender Samantha Whitehouse who has only allowed 14 goals on 108 shots. She has 64 saves so far this season.
Kieffer credits sophomore Makenzie Stevens and junior Paige Mapley as defenders who stepped up to take on a larger role this season.
“I have no complaints on how they have performed this year,” Kieffer said. “It makes things easier when I don’t have to teach, but just help fix minor things.”
Having a freshman class that came in prepared has also put the Pioneers in a good position according to Kieffer. Sabrina Whitehouse has been a huge factor in her first season being second on the team in goals scored with four.
Although the team hasn’t made playoffs in two years, the Pioneers are familiar with Empire 8 conference tournament. In 2014, the team won 18 games and took home the conference championship.