Field hockey starts strong season with multiple shutouts

Junior forward Bianca Zarrella used her superior athletic ability to move swiftly past a defender this past weekend, in which the Brewers split a pair of games to improve their record to 5-1. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics
Junior forward Bianca Zarrella used her superior athletic ability to move swiftly past a defender this past weekend, in which the Brewers split a pair of games to improve their record to 5-1. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics
Junior forward Bianca Zarrella used her superior athletic ability to move swiftly past a defender this past weekend, in which the Brewers split a pair of games to improve their record to 5-1. Photo By: Vassar College Athletics

Vassar field hockey has gotten off to an historic start this season. Currently with a winning record of 5-1, the team has relied heavily on their strong defensive lineup to find their early success. The Brewers shut out four teams to start the season: Thomas College, Manhattanville, Kean University, and Brockport. “I really can’t think of a better way to kick off the season than with a couple of four-goal wins followed by two more wins against very strong teams,” said junior goalkeeper Amreen Bhasin [Full disclosure: Amreen Bhasin is a staff reporter for The Miscellany News]. Their only loss was a close one, 1-2 against SUNY Geneso on September 13th.

Field hockey graduated a whopping eight seniors in 2013, leaving the team carrying an unusually low number of girls at only 14. Their small size has significantly impacted the dynamic of this year’s team.

Firstly, every player is being held accountable. “We push each other to be more disciplined, which for field hockey means playing low, passing consistently and positively communicating,” said junior captain Lauren Wiebe. The small group has been pushed physically, according to the girls, as the undersized team has stepped it up in the fitness department. “Having lower numbers this year forced every player to step up and hold themselves to an extremely high standard,” said Wiebe, “Our fitness level is at its best ever, and we are reaping the benefits in all of our games. Even with a short bench, we are able to power through all 70 minutes!…Obviously our low numbers can put us in a vulnerable situation, but we’ve absolutely risen to the challenge by focusing on fitness even before coming for preseason.” Bhasin concurred, saying “Every single person gives their all every single game…All of us worked really hard during the off season and it’s really showing in terms of our fitness: We can outrun every single team we play.”

The low numbers encouraged each player to expand her skill set and have a wide breadth of abilities. “I think one of our strengths is our versatility,” said Bhasin, “Every single girl on our team plays offense and defense all over the field.”

Yet another advantage to the team’s size is the ease it brings to team-building. “We also trust each other so much on and off the field and just have such an amazing chemistry. I’ve never played on a team that works as well together as this year’s team. Everyone also really wants to be successful.” The increase in trust and chemistry has allowed the girls to get tough on one another. “Everyone expects the best from each other and no one wants to let the team down,” said Wiebe, “We push each other to be more disciplined.”

With all of this going for them, the Brewers have some high expectations for their 2014 season. The memory of last season’s bid at the Liberty League championship has served as motivation for this year’s team. “We made it to the Liberty League play-off last year and we want to prove to ourselves and the rest of the league that we can make it again!” commented Wiebe. And VCFH is not stopping there. “Obviously, we want to be back there again this year. But this year, we’re all aiming to win not only the regular season title but the tournament as well. We’re also hoping to make our first NCAA appearance,” said Bhasin.

But these impressive aspirations mean VCFH must stay focused and work hard. “We have a lot of smaller goals that help us stay focused. For practices, we focus on a single thing like staying low, keeping the stick on ball or communicating. That helps us create good habits that carry over to our games,” described Wiebe.

What may make all of these hopes possible is the defensive work done by the field hockey team thus far. Bhasin, who has faced 23 shots this season and allowed only 3, insists that it is not only her efforts that have made their early success possible. “It’s a real team effort, which is why I’ve barely even seen any shots this year; our team is so strong at immediately turning around and switching from an offensive role to a defensive one anywhere on the field,” she said. “This year, they’ve just stepped up and have completely taken charge of our defensive zone. In goal, I’m never worried having them in front of me because they’re all so good and they always work together. Our communication is always high and they just really keep their composure any time the ball’s around…They play patiently and intelligently. But without the whole team’s defensive effort working together, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful.”

The team’s center forward sophomore Hayley Beach has contributed enormously to their defensive success, as well as core backs senior Hilary McDonnell, freshman Ashley LaMere, and sophomore Sophie Arnold. Senior Enya Cunningham is also recognized as the backbone of the defense this year. Despite all of these talents delivering impressive performances, it is clear that the team’s successes have largely been made possible by collective effort, as Wiebe commented, “It’s truly impossible to pinpoint who has contributed the most defensively.” Wiebe, a forward, agreed with Bhasin, saying “We all play defense, starting from the forwards. We don’t want to wait, watch and expect that the teammate behind us will get the ball. We play really high-pressure and hold ourselves accountable to win back the ball. Finally, we keep communication constant in order to continue working as a single unit…Our defensive play is truly a team effort!”

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