Field hockey preview: A strong senior class pushes to return to its winning ways

Senior midfielder Grace Fitzgerald enters her second season as a team captain. (File photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- The Bates field hockey team plots its return to a winning record and postseason play beginning Saturday morning at Hamilton, in spite of the graduation of several key players headed by two-time All-NESCAC forward Taylor Lough.

After two straight years of winning records and NESCAC tournament appearances in 2016 and 2017, the Bobcats endured a more uneven campaign in 2018. In the season opener a year ago, Bates led Hamilton 2-0 with under 19 minutes to go but fell 3-2, starting a run of four losses to start the season. The Bobcats rebounded to finish 6-9, and showed how good they could be in games with results like a 5-2 win over Wesleyan and a 3-2 overtime win at nationally-ranked Babson.

A strong core of veterans return in search of more wins in 2019, and their fitness upon their return to campus showed seventh-year head coach Danielle Ryder Kogut that they meant business. "I think that they put a lot of work in this summer; that's been very apparent in our pre-season sessions," said Kogut in this week's Bates Bobcast podcast. "And then we have some great newcomers as well.

"We were able to start our first stick and ball session digging right into structure and how we play versus, in past years, we've had to spend at least two to three days kind of getting everyone in the same place. So it's nice."

Tri-captains for the squad are senior midfielder Grace Fitzgerald (Larchmont, N.Y.), senior defender Abigail Ford (Wells, Maine) and senior defender Alexa Jurgeleit (Barrington, R.I.). Ford, whom Kogut prizes for her level-headedness, became a full-time starter at right back last season. Fitzgerald enters her second season as a team captain, and won Second Team All-New England West Region honors for her stellar junior campaign, which included six goals and seven assists. Jurgeleit has started in the back for Bates in all 47 games of her career thus far, and once earned ECAC Division III North Defensive Player of the Week honors. 

One of Bates' finest senior classes in years also includes forward Ally Leahy (Cohasset, Mass.) and midfielder Victoria McGee (Scarsdale, N.Y.). Leahy missed her junior season due to injury, but she tallied 13 points over her first two seasons. McGee came on strong as a full-time starter in 2018, tallying three goals and five assists.

Three now-sophomores earned starting roles last year and will be relied upon in 2019: goalie Ellie Bauer (Denver, Colo.), defender Amelia Mountford (New London, N.H.) and forward Bridget Thompson (Newtown, Pa.). A fourth sophomore, forward Riley Burns (Sterling, Mass.), offered scoring punch off the bench, totaling four goals and five assists.

"I think I'm most looking forward to just seeing what the team does building off of kind of how they expanded as a group over this past spring and some goals and just a culture-setting that they started to develop, I'm really excited to see that in action because they've spent a lot of time on it," said Kogut. "And I think overall we have a really strong team."

After the opener at Hamilton, Bates returns home to host rival Bowdoin Wednesday night at 7pm.