Field hockey season preview: Trending upward

Jillian Conway '15 will act as one of three tri-captains for the Bobcats this fall. (File photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine – Bates College field hockey will look to continue to make strides in its second year under the direction of head coach Danielle Ryder as the team adds a talented first-year class to a core group of returners.

In her first year as the program's leader, Ryder worked to accomplish several objectives – from solidifying the team's defense to hitting the recruiting trail with more fervor to reinvigorating the team's culture and mentality – both during the season and in the offseason.

Now in year two, Ryder believes that the team's infusion of first-year talent coupled with the foundation that the team created for itself over the course of the 2013-14 academic year should begin to pay dividends this fall. The Bobcats will aim to pick up where they left off last October – a month which included a three-game winning streak and a trio of narrow losses.

"Hopefully we'll build where we left off. That's the goal," Ryder said.

First-year Influx

With her first true recruiting class, Ryder will welcome nine players, in addition to potential walk-ons, who will have the opportunity to contribute immediately and help set the backbone of the team for the future.

"We brought in a really strong 2014 class, and we're excited to see how they turn out in their first year," Ryder said. "We expect big things out of them because we recruited them to do so."

The group's collective success at the high school level impressed the coaching staff in particular as virtually all of the team's newcomers helped lead their teams to significant postseason runs in their respective state tournaments.

"We're talking about players that come from traditionally great programs. They know what it takes to win. We're hoping that they bring that mentality into our program," Ryder said.

Caroline Falcone '15 led the Bobcats with nine goals last season. (File photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Returning Experience

Last fall and extending into the offseason, the Bobcats bought into a new style of play and philosophy geared toward achieving more success. The team's veterans now have the knowledge base within that system to hit the ground running this season and to ease the transition for the squad's new players.

"With whom we have returning, it's a small but very strong group. I think they'll do a nice job of setting a foundation early for the first years to build off of," Ryder said.

Bates will have three accomplished leaders in its tri-captains – seniors Jillian Conway (Andover, Mass.) and Caroline Falcone (New Canaan, Conn.) and junior Hannah Beinecke (Manchester, Mass.). Conway, one of the team's top defenders, and Falcone, who has scored 16 career goals, have each played in 41 career games for the Bobcats while Beinecke has played in 28 games with 27 starts.

Goalkeeper will stand as a position of strength as the team returns juniors Cristina Vega (Needham, Mass.) and Katie Knox (Bronxville, N.Y.), each of whom has the ability to lead the team from the cage. The duo should help the club build off a 2013 season in which Bates recorded its best goal differential since 2008 and its best goals-against average since 2006.

The Bobcats bring back another four players who appeared in at least 13 games a season ago – juniors Shannon Beaton (West Newbury, Mass.) and Danielle Pierce (Parsonsfield, Maine) as well as sophomores Sydney Cowles (Wayne, Pa.) and Claire Markonic (Millerton, N.Y.). Juniors Alex Eliopoulos (Akron, Ohio) and Alexa Bourque (North Attleboro, Mass.) provide the team more experienced depth.

Continuing to Elevate Play

The Bobcats began to find their stride last October, particularly during their three-game winning streak, and will look to find that level of success beginning in September in 2014. Despite not reaching her desired win-loss record last fall, Ryder believes the team demonstrated important development.

"Even though we still lost quite a few games, they were games that made a bigger impression on our opponents' minds than in years previous," Ryder said.

With teams now realizing that the Bobcats are entering a new era, Ryder knows that opponents will not underestimate the team's capabilities. Last fall, Bates challenged nationally-ranked teams and outscored its non-conference foes 16-6. In 2014, the Bobcats will seek to match that level of success – and surpass it – to further reinforce the team's upward trajectory.

"We've made a pretty big statement about who we're going to be. As much as we're getting closer, we have to continue to up our level of play," Ryder said.