September 8, 2006

Red Travels for First Ivy Game

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[img_assist|nid=18153|title=Go for it|desc=Sophomore Kate Randall (pictured) and the field hockey team will open Ivy League play with a game against Columbia tonight in New York City.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=43]When Cornell and Columbia women’s field hockey teams match up tonight at Riverbank State Park right outside of New York City, it will be a meeting of two programs that appear quite similar.
Both have coaches in their third seasons guiding rosters filled with young players, coming off a season that put each respective squad back on the map in the Ivy League. The rivals have even split the two meetings since each coach began their tenure. In short, both are up and coming teams among in a conference that is beginning to learn the meaning of parity.
“I truly feel that any team in the Ivies could come out and beat any other team on any given night,” said head coach Donna Hornibrook. “That’s why it’s all about momentum in these Ivy League games. It’s so intense, and the games mean so much that a goal here or there could decide the whole thing.”
That’s why Hornibrook is banking on a what she calls a cohesive team effort to counter Columbia, and move the Red’s season-opening win streak to three following victories over Lehigh and Lafayette last weekend.
“They are a well-coached, disciplined team,” she said. “They are not free lancing at all. They have set plays on both offense and defense.
That’s why we need to focus on team defense. We did a good job of that last week, and we know that our attack comes from playing good team defense.”
While the Red took down Lafayette last Sunday using long balls out of the backfield to break the aggressive defensive-style Lafayette brought, Hornibrook expects to work the ball up through the midfield a little more tonight.
“Their defense is a little less aggressive than Lafayette’s was,” she said. “They play sit and wait, more along the lines of what we saw from Lehigh last Friday. So our free hits will have to be situational and try and react to what the team is giving us, and maybe try and work it up more. Our midfield had a good defensive game last week, and our forwards had quickness getting in behind the other team’s defense to create scoring opportunities. We have to keep this balanced approach to be successful. It’s what we hang our hat on.”
Columbia returns two All-Ivy second-team honorable mentions in seniors Ramie Merrill and Kim Branich to a team that finished 8-9 overall (1-6 Ivy) in 2005, the second-most wins in program history. Branich led the team with 12 points, including four goals and four assists, while Merrill was right behind her with three goals and two assists for 10 points. Despite returning a talented front line, the Lions lost Erin Wesseldine, an All-Ivy second-team honoree who led the Ancient Eight in defensive saves. This trio represented the most All-Ivy mentions the team has had since 2000.
“They could have won a lot more games in the Ivies last year,” Hornibrook said. “If you look at their Ivy League games, there were a lot decided by one goal, which can just be all momentum. A goal here or there and things would have been quite different. That’s why we respect them, we understand. It’s like last Friday, that was a one-goal game until late, and if we hadn’t put in that last goal, that game could have gone either way.”
Still, so far this year, the Lions look like they miss Wesseldine more than they are being supported by their two returning forwards. In two games, a 6-0 loss to Cal and a 5-1 loss to Stanford, they have been outshot, 53-14.
“There are two things about Columbia’s first two games which are deceiving,” Hornibrook said. “First, they’ve played some of the best teams in the nation. Both those teams are top-15. And also, to have them first thing in the season is tough. Still, I’m sure that defense has probably been their focus, and we definitely saw some things on the tape that gave us reason to respect their defense.”