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Field Hockey Aiming for a Return to the Top

Terriers launch conference play tomorrow as they host Lafayette

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When the BU field hockey team fell to American 1-0 in last season’s Patriot League championship game, the upset was devastating. Led by the league’s 2017 Offensive Player of the Year Hester van der Laan (ENG’17) and Defensive Player of the Year Ellie Landsman (Questrom’17), the Terriers had dominated the league during the regular season and were coming off two consecutive conference championships and NCAA appearances. As they begin conference play tomorrow, the sting of that loss remains vivid.

“It’s a new season. It’s a different team,” says Ally Hammel (CGS’17, Sargent’19), “but we all know. We all know that feeling, and we all don’t want to ever feel that way again.”

BU’s failure to complete a coveted league three-peat was a disappointing ending to a great season (5-1 in conference play), but the team now feels ready to add a new chapter to the story. The Terriers, who host Lafayette tomorrow at New Balance Field, are aiming for an even more ambitious goal than regaining the conference title this year: making the NCAA Tournament Final Four and advancing to the national championship game.

“We talked about acting like champions,” says Hammel, the 2017 Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. “Every day, we go out and practice like champions because we know we want to be in that game.”

BU field hockey player Ally Hammel, 2017 Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, celebrates with a teammate during a game

Ally Hammel (CGS’17, Sargent’19) (far right) was voted the 2017 Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

The season is long, however, and the Terriers must first take a series of smaller steps to have a shot at a national title says team captain Grace Boston (CAS’18, Sargent’18).

“It’s important to know that our end goal is to be in the national championship game, but…our main focus right now is making sure we get those Patriot League wins in the regular season to put us in a good spot to be hosting the championship and win it,” she says.

Among the challenges the team faces: replacing an elite senior class that had five All-Conference Team players. There are nine freshmen on this season’s lineup, nearly half of the 21-player roster. But head coach Sally Starr believes the team is not only determined, but also capable.

“We’re a young team, but we feel we really have a lot of talent. Our goal and expectations are to just work hard and get better every practice, get better every game, and come November, to really compete for our conference championship,” says Starr, who is entering her 37th season at the program helm. “When we recruit, we recruit not just to be the best team in New England. We really want to be a legitimate Elite Eight, Final Four type of team year in and year out, similar to our men’s ice hockey program.”

In early season play the freshmen have exceeded expectations. They’ve been responsible for 8 of the team’s 13 goals, with Ailsa Connolly (CGS’19) and Miya Denison (CGS’19) leading the team with three goals and six points each.

Players attribute the freshmen’s success to the team’s chemistry. “Every player has different tactical skill levels, but we do well bringing out the best skill in each player and each other,” Boston says. “Working each other’s strengths and realizing that we need to utilize each other are what our team’s really good at.”

BU field hockey player Miya Denison plays during a game

Miya Denison (CGS’19) coleads the Terriers with three goals and six points this season.

Starr knows the importance of team culture and had worried that this season’s major roster overhaul could damage the team’s chemistry. She credits the veterans for bringing everyone together.

“That was definitely a big question mark in the summer and a focal point for us in the preseason: to create a positive team culture, where these guys know each other, love each other, will fight for each other on the field, compete hard in practice, and just really help each other so they can be the best they can be,” she says. “I have to congratulate our upperclassmen, our captains, for creating that type of culture.”

“From the freshmen up, people are voicing their opinion,” says Boston, “which is a really great atmosphere for us to have because every person on our team has valuable information.”

That communication will be crucial tomorrow as the team looks to end a three-game skid and begins conference play.

“We want to prove that we’re still the best team in the Patriot League,” Boston says.

Jonathan Chang can be reached at jchang19@bu.edu.

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