Without head coach Donna Hornibrook — who is taking a leave of absence to deal with an ongoing medical issue — the Cornell field hockey team is looking to improve upon last season’s fifth-place finish in the Ivy League with an influx of young talent.
Steve Simpson has been named the interim head coach during Hornibrook’s absence. Hornibrook has been the head coach of the Red since 2004 and is the winningest coach in school history with 129 victories.
“Coach Hornibrook has had an ongoing health issue, and she felt it was the best move for her and the team to remove herself from the program and work on her rehab for the time being,” Simpson said. “I completely support that, the university completely supports her and obviously the team is supportive of what she has to do.”
There is currently no timetable regarding Hornibrook’s return to the team, but Simpson does not anticipate that she will return to the sidelines within the next few weeks.
The Red enters 2018 having lost its three leading goal-scorers to graduation from last season. The young team will rely on younger players to pull their weight.
The 2018 rendition of the Red features just one senior in midfielder Gabby DePetro, who totaled two goals and three assists last year. Because of its youth, Simpson’s squad will rely on key juniors like goaltender Maddie Henry, midfielder Kirsten Pienaar and midfielder Maddy Conklin to provide leadership.
“As the only senior on the team, I feel a strong responsibility to be someone the team can rely on both on and off the field,” DePetro said. “I think it’s important that I use the experience I’ve gained and the lessons I’ve learned over the past three years to benefit the team in any way I can, and I want to make my last season one that I can feel really proud of when I leave.”
Henry will start in goal for the Red. In 2017, she split time with Kelly Johnson, who graduated last spring. Henry allowed just 1.49 goals per game and saved nearly 80 percent of the shots she faced last season.
She will look to match her impressive early-season play last season this year — she began the 2017 campaign without allowing a goal in her first 253 minutes of action.
Simpson expects what he considers to be a strong freshman class to contribute heavily throughout the season. Simpson noted that he foresees Kate MacGillis, Claire Jones and Isabel Windham getting significant playing time.
“There is a lot of quality in this year’s freshman class,” Simpson said. “So, between the talent coming in and the improvement of the returning players, I think that we will have a good chance of having a pretty successful season.”
The Red will open its season Friday at Bucknell — the Red beat the Bison, 1-0, last season — and then will travel to Lock Haven Sunday. Cornell will not play its first home game until September 9 when Rider comes to Dodson Field.
DePetro said she is confident in the team’s ability to succeed this season.
“I feel like with the lack of a big senior class, all of the returning players have really stepped up and decided that they want to take on a bigger role in making this a successful season,” DePetro said. “I’m really proud of the way this group of girls has created a positive team dynamic of support and a desire to push each other to be better.”
Despite the team’s lack of experience, the group is confident in its capability to compete for an Ivy League title and NCAA tournament berth.
“I think we have so much potential on this team, and if we can perform up to that level in games while continuing to refine our style and capitalizing on scoring opportunities, I expect us to have a very successful season,” DePetro said. “The ultimate goal is to play well, win games and earn the Ivy League title. We might be a young team, but I really think we have the heart and fight to do so.”