Just three years ago, the Fairfield University field hockey team won only 4 games and sat in the cellar of the America East conference. This year, they are off to their best start in school history.
With a 1-0 shutout win last Friday over Holy Cross, the Stags won their fifth straight contest, and improved to 7-2 on the season.
“At the beginning of the season, the four seniors [including myself] realized that we need to take Fairfield field hockey to another level. Not only did we want a successful team that wanted to win, but we wanted to become one of the best teams in the school’s history,” said senior goalkeeper Caitlin O’Donnell.
With the win over Holy Cross, the Stags head into conference play with positive momentum. Field hockey is one of the few varsity sports on campus that does not compete in the MAAC conference. They compete in the America East conference, which includes perennial field hockey powers such as New Hampshire, Albany, Maine and Boston University, all ranked in the naional top 20. In fact, the America East conference is the fourth ranked conference in DI (division one) for field hockey. The Stags open up conference play against defending regular season champion, New Hampshire, who happens to be the 12th ranked team in the country.
“It is important that our team continues to play our game and does not become intimidated that we are entering conference play. We know that we are capable of winning and it is up to us to focus on one game at a time,” said O’Donnell.
“It is a wonderful match-up. I’m interested to see how our defense going to do against this very strong scoring team,” said head coach Jackie Kane, who is currently in her 21st year at the helm for the Stags.
Conference play has not been kind to the Stags since they joined the American East in 2007. Fairfield finished 0-5 in their inaugural season, followed by three consecutive 1-4 marks in which the Stags finished in fifth place. This years’ team is determined to change that.
“This team gets down to business. They come in and they get it done,” said coach Kane.
“Having only 18 players and 3 coaches we have become close, very similar to a family.” said O’Donnell.
This bolstered chemistry has been translating into some of the best defensive play in the country. The Stags currently rank 5th in the nation in goals against average, only giving up an average of one goal per game. “Communication is key in defense and it makes my life, as a goalkeeper, easier when I tell one of my defenders to pick up an offender and they listen to me right away,” said goalkeeper Maddy Sposito, who is currently ranked 10th in the country in goals against average.
Offensively, the Stags have been lead by a senior and a freshman. Senior Marit Westenberg has tallied 13 points, while freshman Felictas Heinen has 9 points in the early part of this season. In addition to Westenberg and Heinen, Sarah Wickles has contributed five points off the bench, while senior captain Leah Furey and sophomore Christy Starsinic have notched four points a piece.
“With a small squad, they all contribute,” said coach Kane.
The Stags have an opportunity to make some serious noise this season. With a stretch coming up that includes playing three teams currently in the national top 20, it is crucial for Fairfield to keep the momentum going.
“We always want to make the (conference) tournament. We want to have a winning record. That would be a great accomplishment for us,” said Kane. With arguably their hardest game of the year coming up on Friday at New Hampshire, the Stags can make a huge statement in the opening weekend of conference play.
“We want to play the entire seventy minutes. We have to work hard, be extremely disciplined and have some luck. We can’t have any lapses, if we have a lapse we are in trouble,” said Kane.
The Stags conference home opener is Saturday October 15th, at 1 p.m. against Maine. The Black Bears are 10-1 and are currently ranked 17th in the nation. Fairfield will certainly go into this game as an underdog, but the Stags have a chance to prove to the field hockey world that they are for real.
“They have to want it. They have a huge opportunity in front of them,” said Kane.