Two seasons after winning the Patriot League and earning a trip to the NCAA tournament, the Fairfield University women’s field hockey team has been sent packing from the league.

After eight seasons as an associate member of the Patriot League, the field hockey team’s contract has been cancelled following the 2003 season, forcing the team to relocate to another athletic conference.

“The Patriot League is trying to lower the number of associate members it has,” said Kristina Peterson, the assistant media relations director of the Patriot League.

“Because of this, we decided to not renew the contract of Fairfield University,” Peterson said.

The cancellation of the team’s contract was the outcome of a league vote, in which the athletic directors and presidents of the eight member schools (American, Army, Bucknell, Colgate, Holy Cross, Layfette, Lehigh and Navy) were involved.

Women’s field hockey, men’s football and lacrosse each cut back on the number of associate members, as Towson football’s and Hobart men’s lacrosse contracts were cancelled prior to the 2004 season.

While Towson’s and Hobart’s teams have seen limited amounts of success in their tenure in the Patriot League, Fairfield field hockey has seen much, claiming the leagues first ever NCAA tournament bid during the 2001 season.

While their success has led to a number of rumors concerning Fairfield’s dismissal, Patriot League officials say there is no validity behind any of this speculation.

“Fairfield’s success had nothing to do with their dismissal from the league,” said Peterson. “It is not an issue.”

As for 2004 , the Stags hope to continue their success and have accepted an invitation to join the Northeast Conference.

The NEC, which currently includes Quinnipiac, Rider, Siena, Sacred Heart, Monmouth and St. Francis will also be adding Robert Morris to its field hockey program.

According to Assistant Coach Dani Bleam, the Stag’s level of competition is still in question for the next season.

“The league’s strength is greatly determined by the strength of its schedule,” said Bleam.

“We really have no idea at this point where the competition lies or where it will lie next year,” she said. “But I am confident that we will be just as competitive.”

Members of the field hockey team are also confident with the move to the NEC, but admit they will miss the Patriot League.

“We feel like it [the Patriot League] is stronger competition,” said Kiara Nickl, ’04.

“But we fell we will be able to pick up all the great teams [out of conference], so the schedule won’t be too different,” said Nickl.

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