2007 Field Hockey Season Preview
Aug. 17, 2007
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Coming off a season that saw the Hoosiers win a school record 11 games in a row and having three players named first team All-Big Ten, Indiana field hockey will be looking to continue their recent string of success in 2007.
Head coach Amy Robertson, who returns for her eighth season leading the program, will look to senior goalkeeper Haley Exner and a host of others to lead the way to the top of the Big Ten after finishing second the past two seasons.
"We have optimistic expectations for this season," Robertson said. "The players have been working very hard on their fitness this summer. It will be a luxury to be able to rest players for a few minutes here and there, keeping our key players at the top of their game."
The Hoosiers have some large shoes to fill with the graduation of All-Americans Lydia Schrott and Morgan Miller. Both players received first team all-Big Ten recognition as well as first team NFHCA All-West Region. Also graduating and playing an important supporting role in last year's success were Rachel Telian and April Levins.
"Last year we had accomplished some great feats with wins over perennial powerhouse Penn State, top-ranked Ohio State and Iowa but faltered a bit at the end of the season due to some key injuries," said Robertson.
Senior Kate O'Connell and junior Kate Kiper will lead the forward position, with two freshmen and two sophomores providing depth. According to Robertson, this year's forward line has the most skill of any line in the program's history. O'Connell was second in goals and assists last season while Kiper added three goals and both will be looking to improve upon those numbers this season. Sophomore Alina Valenti, who scored four goals in her first year returns, looking to be a factor on the offensive end.
"Kate O'Connell is our lone senior on the forward line," Robertson noted, "and our key player from last spring. She has incredible stick control and touch. Katie Kiper and Alina Valenti are built for speed and will run circles around most opposing backfields. Haley Funk is more of a poised player who loves to score and is accustomed to winning. We have two incoming freshman, Katie Griswold and Lena Grote who will impact the forward line right away with their tenacity and drive to score goals."
The midfield corps will see three seniors leading the charge for the Hoosiers. Meredith Brown, Amanda Oyler and Margie Stoll will be looked to for leadership at this position. Brown, a three-year starter for IU, started every game for the Hoosiers last year and Oyler was named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team a year ago. Kelsey Kiper, the younger sister of teammate Katie, and Mutsawashe Mutembwa will look to provide depth to an already deep position.
"We have never before had as much depth in our midfield line as we will this year," says Robertson, "which is a huge plus due to the high work rate demanded of middies. Meredith Brown will quarterback the midfield line in her fourth year as a starter. Amanda Oyler and Meg O'Connell, who are both great playmakers on both sides of the ball, join her. Liz Schmidt and two of our incoming freshman, Mutsawashe Mutembwa and Kelsey Kiper all show great potential for this line."
"This past spring we had to do a lot of shuffling around with our backfield after losing two of our starting fullbacks and leaders of our defense," Robertson remarked when asked about the backs. "There were a lot of question marks at first but eventually we found our answers in some unexpected places. What was a fear for the upcoming season has been displaced by greater confidence in the backfield unit as a whole."
Robertson sees Dani Castro as one of the players to be looked upon for guidance after a soled 2006 campaign. She started 18 of the Hoosiers 19 games a year ago and scored her first point of her collegiate career. "Dani Castro really stepped it up by taking charge and becoming accustomed to greater responsibility as a key player in our defense," Robertson said.
"Dani is joined by Brittney Hacken, who started as a first year player, along with two seniors, Erin Isler and Margie Stoll, who are more than ready to see more playing time and provide a boost with their fourth year of experience. Lucy Ireland has a lot of tools as a defender and is very difficult to get by with her uncanny low tackling skills. We also have an incoming freshman, Brenna Moeljadi who has the potential to impact and assist Dani Castro in the center of the backfield."
And perhaps the strongest position on the field for the Hoosiers in between the posts, in the form of Haley Exner. As a sophomore, she earned first team All-Big Ten and second team All-Region. In her junior year, Exner continued to impress, collecting first team All-Big Ten accolades once again and receiving first team All-West Region in addition to being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice. She enters the 2007 season with a goals against average for her career of less than two and a win-loss record of 30-10. Backing her up will be junior Jobi Manson, who logged her first win of her career in 2006 and has yet to allow a goal in her Hoosier career.
"We have two great goalkeepers in Haley Exner and Jobi Manson," Robertson said. "They have an amazing understanding of each other's situation. They constantly push one another and make each other better. Haley has been the starting goalkeeper for the past two seasons and has been a major reason behind our success. In some key games we played more defense than attack but still came up with the "W" thanks to her ability to keep the ball out of the net."
The Hoosiers will welcome five newcomers to the 2007 squad from all over the country, and even the world. Katie Griswold and Brenna Moeljadi both hail from California while Lena Grote and Kelsey Kiper are more local products, coming from Cincinnati and Louisville, respectively. The fifth incoming freshmen found her way to Bloomington all the way from Zimbabwe after competing with the national team there in numerous international competitions.
"All five of our freshman can play some hockey and will provide the spark and lift that this team needs after last year's graduation of 2 All-Americans," Robertson remarked.
"Katie (Griswold) will bring all of the intangibles to our team this year, Robertson continued. "You cannot teach some of the things that she can do. Lena (Grote) is always around the ball, extremely coachable and will bring a spark to the team. Kelsey (Kiper) brings speed and a very aggressive mentality to the field that we are very glad to have. Brenna (Moeljadi) has great leadership skills for a freshman and can make an immediate impact on defense. And Mutsa (Mutembwa) is a very imposing presence that brings tons of international experience to our team. She has the potential to be one of our key performers."
Injuries down the stretch of the 2006 season may have prevented it from being even better than the 14-5 mark would indicate. After opening the season with at loss to nationally ranked Virginia, the Hoosiers responded with a school-record 11 consecutive victories.
In 2007, the Hoosiers will hit the ground running with a weekend at the University of California in Berkeley. Upon returning home, Indiana will host their next five games, wrapping up the homestand with a game against national power Wake Forest.
A road trip to Columbus, Ohio to take on Ohio State opens Big Ten play for the Hoosiers. While they are in Columbus, Indiana will also take on Missouri State in a non-conference battle. Following a trip to the University of Iowa, the Hoosiers will play at home in five of their final seven games.
"I am really excited about the diversity of our schedule," said Robertson, "and to be able to play so many teams within the West Region. When it comes down to it, the most important games that you play are those against teams in your region because it determines your regional ranking, which in turn establishes your position for receiving an at-large NCAA Tournament bid."
Indiana will be trying to get over the hump of finishing second the last two seasons in Big Ten Conference play. The Hoosiers will be looking to avenge a couple painful losses at the hands of Michigan State, including one in the Big Ten tournament and a tough loss at home against Michigan.
When asked about the Big Ten in 2007, Robertson said, "Our conference is going to be loaded this year and as in every other year since I have been at Indiana, I really believe the top position is up for grabs. Based on what I observed this spring, I would say that the toughest competition will be Penn State and Iowa, but Michigan has reloaded and Michigan State is also making strides. I think Ohio State suffered some big losses to graduation but don't ever discount their ability to grab some great incoming talent and keep it going. Northwestern has been the underdog in the conference but they are without a doubt one of the toughest games that we play the entire year. They are relentless and on the verge of making a breakthrough like we did a couple of years ago.
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