Nick McAdam, Sports Editor
With a recent 2-1 victory over Hartwick College, the Utica Pioneers field hockey team clinched a spot in the Empire 8 postseason. The win was capped off by a 0-6 loss to Skidmore College and a 4-1 win over Houghton College on Senior Night.
At the end of the team’s 18-game campaign, results put the Pioneers at a final record of 8-10, which is split between a 4-6 home tally and a 4-4 away record.
Critically, Utica’s in-conference record of 6-1 on the season gave the final push needed to qualify for Empire 8 action despite the team’s .444 win percentage. The team’s conference record put the Pioneers in second place in the standings only behind a 7-0 St. John Fisher, who also went 15-4 on the season in total.
Hartwick is the only other team to qualify for the postseason and will draw with Utica on Nov. 8 at 2:30 p.m. in Rochester. Historically, this is a matchup that slightly favors the Pioneers by an all-time record of 10-9 split between the two teams since 2001.
Coming with interest to the season for Utica is that the team didn’t finish above the top three in the conference in terms of shots (295), points (94), goals (34), assists (26) and goals allowed (45). On the flip side of the coin, the Pioneers finished with an overall save percentage of .778, which is 36 of a percent above the league-leading St. John Fisher.
In a score-heavy league, the Pioneers were still able to edge out close games. Coach Stacie Skidmore attributed success on the field initially to the work the team puts off the field. More specifically within chemistry and team building.
“We did a lot of team building and community service work early in the season to build team camaraderie,” Skidmore said. “The girls spend a lot of time together, which helps us in games with communication and knowing how each other performs.”
Utica currently hosts a balance of age differential on the team with 12 players falling under junior or senior status, while the remaining eight are first-year players or sophomores. This balance has helped with expectations as all groups of players know what is needed in some way to win, according to Skidmore.
“Our young players are experienced and I think that’s what benefits us most,” she said. “Our juniors and seniors have been here before so they have experience playing in the tournament. They know what to expect and they know what’s expected of them.”
Within the majority is Senior Josie Sgarlata, who has scored three goals and the same amount of assists on 51 shots for the season.
Sgarlata pinpoints the team’s difficult in-conference schedule and ability to work in practice to the success the Pioneers are having.
“We started out a little rough because we did start out playing really hard teams but that only pushed us to where we are now,” Sgarlata said. “We watched film and studied days prior to the team we were about to play and worked hard in practice.”
In the end, both believe that whatever is in the past stays in the past. Sgarlata and Skidmore believe the proper amount of preparation and work ethic can push the team into what they’ve been working for all season long. It’s simply make it or break it time for the team.
“There’s a reason why we’re doing so well,” Skidmore said. “But we’re also going to make necessary adjustments when needed.”