The field hockey team’s patriotism will be put on hold when the final bars of the national anthem fade out tonight at Schoellkopf Field, as Cornell opens its 2006 season playing host to Patriot League rivals Lehigh tonight and Lafayette tomorrow afternoon.
Following a 10-7 (4-3 Ivy) 2005 season in which the Red finished fourth in the Ancient Eight, head coach Donna Hornibrook is no longer looking for her side to exceed expectations, but rather fulfill them.
“I think that we are further ahead than we were last year at this time in sort of an understanding of how we want to play as a team and playing together,” Hornibrook said. “We have the majority of the team returning and actually have nine of our 11 starters returning.”
With last season’s 15 freshmen now sophomores and this year’s class of four rookies, Cornell remains a decidedly young team. The Red will look to All-Ivy sophomore attacker Alyssa DePaola and regional All-American sophomore back Belen Martinez to continue leading the team’s talented youth movement.
Hornibrook also is confident in the ability of her core of five upperclassmen — led by senior co-captains Sarah Miller and Lindsay Moyer — to provide leadership. She also feels the team is ready to use this weekend as a stepping stone for Ivy League play, which begins next weekend at Columbia.
“Our philosophy for both weekends, regardless of our opponents, is to try and go out and play our game, as opposed to trying to react to their style of play,” Hornibrook said. “That’s probably a little different from last year [when] we were pretty young and we were trying on a game-by-game basis to see where we were as a team.”
This weekend’s matches will provide a repeat of last season’s opener, when the Red beat Lehigh, 5-2, while falling to Lafayette, 1-2, on the road.
Both the Mountain Hawks and the Leopards will have the advantage of having already played one game this season, although both dropped their opening matches 2-1, as Lehigh fell to Temples and Lafayette succumbed to Rutgers.
Cornell faces off against an experienced Lehigh squad tonight, a team that has made the Patriot League playoffs for two consecutive years. The Mountain Hawks are lead by junior midfielder Christy Smith, an All-League honoree who boasts a total of six goals and 16 points in her career at Lehigh.
“Lehigh’s been a program that’s been very good the last two years,” Hornibrook said. “They’ve been a program I think that’s definitely shown some improvement over the few years, and we respect their abilities. … We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves in terms of how we want to play against them.”
Cornell is 13-1-1 all-time against Lehigh.
However, the Red has had less success against tomorrow’s opponent, Lafayette, going 3-12-2 against the Leopards since the series began in 1985.
Despite its recent success against the Red, Lafayette is coming off a 2005 season in which the Leopards went winless in the Patriot League.
“[Lafayette plays] a very organized tactical game, generally, and they have some key kids who are tough, good players,” Hornibrook said.
Cornell will look to silence the remnants of Lafayette’s 2003 NCAA tournament team — a group of six seniors who will all share the duties as captains this year for the Leopards. Among Lafayette’s sextet of captains, goaltender Jill Lambert stands out, as she was ranked eighth in the nation in saves and 18th in save percentage last year.
“These two games are good preparation,” Hornibrook said.
“We obviously are concerned with our overall record. We’d like to have a winning season and so every game, non-conference and conference, matters, and we’re definitely using this weekend as a tune-up for next weekend [against Columbia].”