The Red’s 2011 field hockey season will kick off this weekend, with Cornell set to face Villanova (1-0) on Friday at 4 p.m. at the Training Center in Spring City, Pa., and Lock Haven (1-1) at 2 p.m. at Marsha Dodson Field.
Entering the season with a very young team, the Red’s roster has only two seniors, both of whom are captains — forward and midfielder Olivia Boyd and goalkeeper Alex Botte. The team welcomed seven new faces this year, which, coupled with the loss of six starters, is proving to be an early challenge.
“We were definitely looking to fill a lot of roles, but [the freshmen] are blending in really well with the team,” Boyd said. “Obviously there’s a lot to learn in a quick amount of time, but they are all doing a great job of listening to team strategy and they are all going to be able contribute during the season.”
Head coach Donna Hornibrook contends that the team as a whole has been working very hard to start the season off with a win.
“We’ve had two practices a day,” she said. “It’s a relatively short pre-season, so … it’s always a challenge to pull things together as fast as possible … We’ve had a lot of changes this year, so what we’re trying to do now is put people in positions that we feel will make us the strongest unit possible.”
The Red will start its season against Villanova, a team that has proven difficult to beat in the past.
“What we traditionally know about [Villanova] is that they’re a pretty athletic team,” Hornibrook said. “They like to spread the ball out, but they’re very direct and they can usually hit the ball pretty well.”
In the final regular season game of last season, Villanova topped the Red in a victory, 2-1. Despite the fact that Cornell led Villanova in shots in both periods, the Wildcats were able to edge past Cornell to end their season in a win.
The Wildcats’ goalkeeper, senior Megan Goelz, played a great defensive game in the last encounter between the two squads, posting eight saves. On the other end of the pitch Cornell’s Botte allowed two goals and saved only three.
Both of Villanova’s scoring threats from last year’s matchup, Meredith Sabatini and Lauren Wuzzardo, graduated and will not be a part of this season’s contest; however, Cornell’s sophomore forward Hannah Balleza was the only scorer for the Red in the last meeting, and she will be playing this season.
Balleza, along with the rest of her sophomore class, is expected to have a strong showing at this weekend’s games.
“Our sophomores continue to impress me. Their skills are incredible; each of them will be contributing on and off the field,” Botte said.
Additionally, the junior contingent of the team will be expected to lead the team to success.
“Our junior class is being asked to step up and take on different roles,” Hornibrook said. “Mallory Bannon is someone who we moved from the attack side of the ball to the defense side, and her adjustment has been terrific.”
Last season, the Red started off with a win against Lock Haven, 1-0. When the two teams last met Cornell was able to find the back of the net in the first half, and then managed to hold off Lock Haven’s offense for the remainder of the game. Botte was able to make eight saves to propel the Red to victory.
“Alex Botte was on the All-Ivy team last year, and is very solid,” Hornibrook said. “Carolyn Horner is our other keeper, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in her. I think it’s one of the best duos in the Ivy League.”
Botte suggests that the Red expects to play against aggressive teams this weekend, in both of its contests.
“They are both really aggressive teams, and both will be very challenging,” Botte said. “Lock Haven … is one of the most aggressive teams we play all season — they always give us a run for our money. It’s a great way to start the season.”
Despite the fact that both teams have proven challenging in the past, Botte suggests that the Red is confident in its abilities and is ready for the test.
“We have the potential to walk away from this weekend being successful in both of the games,” Botte said. “That being said, it won’t come easy and we’re going to have to work very hard.”
And no matter what the outcome is, the Red plans to use this starting weekend as a way to determine its strengths and weaknesses.
“We’re ready to get out there and evaluate where we are. It’s a process, and it’s a chance to make some decisions and see how it works out,” Hornibrook said.
“This is going to be a high competition weekend, but we’re really excited to play,” Boyd added.
Original Author: Alane Trafford