Field Hockey Season Preview

Aug. 27, 2010

A mix of veteran leadership and talented freshmen highlight the 38th season of University of Michigan field hockey, which is set to open the 2010 season Saturday (Aug. 28) at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Wolverines' schedule once again is heavy on nationally ranked opponents, as all six teams in the Big Ten Conference received mention in the Kookaburra/NFHCA Preseason Coaches' poll.

The Maize and Blue returns seven starters from last year's squad that finished 7-14 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten. Many of those losses could have gone either way, as the Wolverines lost by one goal 10 times and had three overtime defeats. This preseason, U-M's slogan has been 'One More', as in one more sprint, one more drill and one more ounce of effort can be the difference in winning those games once the season comes around.

"Our mantra this year is 'One More,'" said senior tri-captain Meredith Way. "We've turned that into our driving force this preseason. When we get to those close games we'll be that little bit better. We'll have that one extra step on each team that will get us the victory."

The Wolverines have nine players that are in their fourth or fifth years with the program. This includes senior tri-captains Meredith Way, Paige Laytos and Zara Saydjari. Way, a senior from Lititz, Pa., was the team's leading scorer last season, tallying 19 goals with 43 points for the Maize and Blue. She also was an All-Big Ten first team selection and had goals in 14 of the Wolverines' 21 contests. Laytos is a fifth-year senior and also is from Lititz, Pa. She scored three goals last season and was an All-Big Ten second team honoree at back for Michigan. Saydjari, a senior from Skowhegan, Maine, has eight career goals, including two game-winners.

"(The seniors) just have to play their own game," U-M head coach Marcia Pankratz stated. "Sometimes what happens with upperclassmen is that they feel a burden in trying to carry the whole team. They don't have to carry the team. Their skill sets will take care of themselves. They are wonderfully gifted athletes, all the seniors are. They just need to focus on doing the best they can and their best is pretty darn good. The younger players, in my experience, will step up. They don't feel pressure; they just play hockey all wide-eyed and excited."

Senior Alicia Mayer was the second-leading scorer last season, as her seven goals included a pair at Northwestern. She is joined by fellow senior Vanessa Sekhon, who has six career goals in her U-M career. Three redshirt juniors dot the roster, including midfielder Katie Adams and back Eileen Brandes. Adams is the normal pusher on penalty corners, as she had eight assists last season, many of which led to tallies by Way. Brandes made three starts in 2009 and tallied assists in three games last year, including the Big Ten Tournament game against Iowa.

The third redshirt junior, Christina Barwick, will battle redshirt freshman Haley Jones for the starting goalkeeper position. Barwick had a 1.73 goals-against average last season for the Maize and Blue and had four wins in seven games played. Jones redshirted last season after lettering three seasons at nearby Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.

The trio of Michigan third-year players all hail from Eastern Regional High School and all should be in the Wolverine rotation this season. Bryn Bain returns from an injury that forced her to miss the final 10 matches of 2009. Before the injury, Bain scored five goals and had a four-game scoring streak. Hannah Dawson and Jess Allen both will be key contributors in the Wolverine backfield. The duo has combined to start 50 games for U-M the past two seasons. Sophomore Liesl Morris saw action in nine games in her first season in the Maize and Blue and will be counted on to add depth in the midfield.

Pankratz will have nine freshmen on the roster this season. The recruiting class will be looked on to contribute right away, as five newcomers played in the exhibition win over Michigan State on Aug. 21.

The schedule starts with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which is part of a four-game road trip to open the season. Michigan will have 11 home games, including tilts with conference foes Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State and games against nationally ranked foes James Madison and Maryland. The Big Ten Tournament will take place Nov. 4-7 on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"Starting with the defending national champion (North Carolina) is good for Michigan and good for hockey," said Pankratz. "It's a barometer for where we are presently and helps us with where we need to get better. The only way you get better is to play teams that are really strong. The key is not winning every single game; it's winning the last game of a season. We are preparing to do the best we can and get better and better and better. We want to be challenged against the best teams in the nation. It can only help us achieve the goals that we've set out for the program."