Field Hockey stirs up ODAC, enters postseason strong

Nolan Potts, ‘Doah Staff Writer
November 6, 2013

'Doah photo courtesy of SU Athletics

‘Doah photo courtesy of SU Athletics

When someone doubts you can do something, regardless of what it is, you ultimately want to prove that person wrong.  In team sports, you’re able to play with a different mentality when you’re labeled as the underdog. On one hand, there’s less pressure to live up to expectations because you’re not expected to do well, but on the other hand, that doubt serves as fuel to perform better and gives the team extra motivation.

The Shenandoah University field hockey didn’t need any extra motivation heading into this season. After all, the team was coming off of a program record 11-win season in 2012 and their first-ever appearance in the ODAC Tournament.

But, after the other coaches in the ODAC voiced their opinion on how they expected the team to do this year, the ladies were able to come out and play with a chip on their shoulder, and now find themselves in a favorable position entering the postseason as the #2 seed in the upcoming ODAC Tournament. The Hornets will host either Randolph-Macon or Washington & Lee this afternoon at 4:00 PM in the ODAC semifinals. SU defeated RMC 4-1 on October 30th, and knocked off W&L 4-3 on October 17th.

The Hornets were picked to finish 6th the initial ODAC preseason poll that was conducted in late August. It’s easy to see why the other coaches felt the team might not be as strong in 2013. They were losing their four leading goal scorers from last season in Sarah DeLuca (14 goals), Alexandra Darrow (10 goals), Amber Vanhorn (9 goals), and Hannah Johnson (6 goals).

Those four combined to score 41 of the Hornets’ 55 goals in 2012. Also, the ladies were going to be led by a new head coach after the resignation of Kim Iman-Bianchi on December 7, 2012, who left Shenandoah to be at home full-time with her family. Ashley Smeltzer was named as Iman-Bianchi’s replacement on February 11th after spending the previous five years as an assistant coach at the University of Rochester.

Coach Smeltzer only brought in two recruits this year (Alexa Lapp and Taylor Little), so all of the returners knew they were going to have increased roles in 2013. The team also regained a familiar face in lacrosse star Ashley Cross, who had taken the 2012 field hockey campaign off after playing in 2010 and 2011. Heading into the season, the ladies were optimistic they would have a successful season, even if the other coaches in the ODAC didn’t believe they were capable of competing for a conference championship.

The team voted on captains at the beginning of the season, and they elected two seniors in Cross and Liz Grover, as well as junior Sarah Wohld to serve as co-captains. The ladies started off the year in grand style by defeating Wilson 7-0 on August 30th, and blowing out Hood 8-0 on September 3rd. Things got a little tougher from that point on, as they went 2-7 in their next nine games, including two three game losing streaks.

Luckily, all but one of those losses came against non-conference opponents, meaning the team’s shot at an ODAC regular season title was still alive. They got on a hot streak in October and won five out of their final six games, including four straight to end the season.

Overall, the ladies finished 10-9 (6-2 in ODAC games). The only two conferences losses were to eventual regular season champion Lynchburg 5-0 on September 27th, and to Bridgewater 2-1 in overtime on October 15th.

Statistically, the team was led by Ashley Cross, who scored 14 goals and recorded 30 points. Sophomore Kelani Bailey also played a key role in the regular season, scoring 9 goals and recording 20 points.

Sophomore Presha Merritt led the way in assists with 5, followed by fellow sophomore Sarah Brock with 4, and freshman Alexa Lapp with 3. In goal, senior Sarah Clare started every game, saving 135 shots and recording 5 shutouts in the team’s 10 wins. The squad also had two players named as ODAC Player of the Week during the course of the season. Kelani Bailey won the award on September 23rd, and Sarah Brock received the honor on October 28th.

After being eliminated in the semifinals by Lynchburg in 2012, the team is more determined than ever to make the most of the opportunity they have in front of them. They’ve already earned themselves a first-round bye, and the privilege to host the semifinal game this afternoon.

According to the preseason poll, these ladies have exceeded expectations by finishing tied for 2nd in the regular season and claiming the #2 seed in the ODAC Tournament. Now it’s up to them to continue their season and make history in the process. With a win in the semifinals, they will tie the program record for wins in a season (which they set last year) and earn their first ever trip to a conference championship game.

Despite having a new coach and losing their top goal scorers, the Hornets haven’t missed a beat this year and are on the verge of shocking those ODAC coaches that voted them 6th to start the year even more by getting into the championship game.

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