Field hockey expecting big things as 2008 season begins

Chris Gates

“It’s a new year.”

That’s what Kent State coach Kathleen Schanne and the field hockey team have been focused on. With the opening of regular season play this weekend, the Flashes have been telling themselves they are no better than any other team, and the play on the field will determine the rankings.

“This early on, and I think what we maintain throughout the season is, we take it one game at a time,” Schanne said. “We take it one game at a time. The season is a process, and we look to be playing our best hockey, peaking toward the end of November.”

The most prominent difference between the start of this season compared to the start of 2007 is in the team’s chemistry. This is due, in part, to a preseason in which every player participated and developed an understanding of team goals.

“We have, definitely, a lot more healthy athletes,” Schanne said. “We have another year as a staff with this team. The message is consistent and common. They know what is expected of them.”

The Flashes start 2008 as a Mid-American Conference favorite and look to start another journey to the MAC Tournament. This time, after semifinal losses the last two years, Kent State hopes for greater success.

“It’s a new year; we’ve got new people coming in,” sophomore midfielder Rachel Miller said. “Everyone’s trying really hard in preseason, so it will be really nice to see how we do once we get into the conference games.”

St. Francis, which comes to Murphy-Mellis Field at 1 p.m. Saturday for the Flashes’ season opener, is more unpredictable than Kent State.

After a breakthrough season last year, the Red Flash lost 2007 Northeast Conference Coach of the Year Liz de Simas. She led St. Francis to its first ever winning season in the NEC, as well as its first ever postseason berth in field hockey last year.

In her place is former Rhode Island coach Stacey Bean, who became St. Francis’ coach July 9.

Schanne came into a new situation three years ago but noted her transition was less stressful than Bean’s because of the time of year she was hired.

“It was probably easier for me because I took over in March and I had a spring with the team,” Schanne said. “For her, I think that is definitely challenging to be able to get a team together in a short amount of time and get them going.”

If there is one position that Bean can be confident about, it’s goaltender. Erin Reifsteck led the NEC and finished third in the nation in saves per game (9.63) last season.

A struggling defense led to high shot totals in 2007, but Reifsteck played through the pressure to record a .798 save percentage, good enough for 12th in the country.

Kent State will look to control the offensive attack in order to put the ball behind Reifsteck.

“We’ve been really working on just having a really patient attack and doing everything we can to finish the ball,” Schanne said. “This is a team we really typically haven’t played.”

Sunday, the Flashes will have a more familiar and difficult task: traveling to Columbus, where they haven’t won since 1997. However, Ohio State came to Murphy-Mellis Field last year and was upset 3-0. It was the first time in three years Kent State had beaten the Buckeyes, but the team realizes it is a different year and Ohio State will be a different opponent than it was in 2007.

“It’s a new year,” Schanne said. “They have new recruits. We have new recruits. They’re not the same team and neither are we.

“Obviously getting a win off the Buckeyes is at a premium for everybody here.”

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].