Field hockey opens season with new field, optimism

Field hockey balls on the GreenFields TX turf on Sept. 1, 2016, the second day of Bates field hockey practice on the new surface. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- With head coach Danielle Ryder beginning her fourth season at the helm, the Bates field hockey program seems primed to take another leap forward. 

The Bobcats' brand-new playing surface at Campus Avenue Field is looking and performing superbly and is ready for its debut today at 5pm, when Worcester State University visits for the team's season opener.

The team has some momentum from a year ago to build off of: Bates claimed its first NESCAC playoff berth since 2010 and played admirably in its season finale, a 4-1 conference quarterfinal loss at Bowdoin, the eventual NCAA national finalist. The Bobcats' seven victories in 2015 were their most since 2005.

And the Bobcats' roster is dotted with young players who are finding their stride -- and with zero seniors, each of them have at least two seasons ahead of them. Best of all, preseason practices have revealed a group embracing the concepts taught by Ryder and assistants Katie Fost and Linda MacDonald, and visibly playing better and better together.

The team traveled over the weekend to scrimmage against conference heavyweights Tufts and Bowdoin, and the results confirmed for Ryder what she had seen in practices.

"To scrimmage this past weekend was a huge bonus for us, because what we saw is that we're already doing a lot right," she said. "We're just fine-tuning some details that are going to come the more we play together and the more we know each other."

During the 2015 campaign, Ryder began employing the use of lines -- for instance, substituting one trio of forwards for another en masse. Those groups continued working together as units during the offseason, and it showed, Ryder said. 

"The idea is for them to really create a great bond on the field, and start to understand where each other moves and how each other plays. We're starting to see a better understanding of their teammates when they're on that line together."

Bates graduated its top goal-scorer from 2015, Shannon Beaton, but still hopes to make a leap forward in the scoring department behind one of those aforementioned lines: sophomore forwards Taylor Lough (Little Compton, R.I.), Adah Lindquist (Wayne, Pa.) and Jessie Moriarty (Springfield, Mass.) combined for nine goals last season. 

The field itself equals more cause for excitement. Tuesday's game will actually mark the North American debut of the specific configuration of the field's new GreenFields TX turf. Campus Avenue Field is the only installation employing GreenField's proprietary Ecocept elastic layer — the shock-absorbing layer that underlies the faux grass. A mixture of recycled rubber and plastic bound with polyurethane, the Ecocept product imparts superior playing qualities and drainage to the turf, says Ryder. 

"It's awesome. It's playing really well, it's fast, it has a great speed to it. We're enjoying being on it so far. They don't think about their playing surface anymore, which is the sign of a great turf."

The starting sophomore forward trio represents only a fraction of Bates' slew of talented and dedicated players, led by former all-region selections in junior back Delaney Nalen (Greenwood Village, Colo.) and junior midfielder Caroline O'Reilly (Longmeadow, Mass.). Add in a promising class of 10 first-year players, and the Bobcats are raring to go.

"We're looking forward to a great season," said Ryder. "Last year was a huge step up for the program. [The returning players] own it, and they understand it's their responsibility to make sure that movement continues."