With a good mix of returning and new players, the Lady Royals are poised to return to form this year. After missing the ODAC Field Hockey Tournament in 2012 for the first time in the 31-year history of the league's sponsorship of the sport, Coach Brenda Bechler is excited to turn a new page.
"We believe that we are capable of so much more than we showed last year," she said, "and we are excited to take that talent and build on it with the additional abilities of new incoming players. We are striving to be back at the top of the ODAC and would love to work our way back to the National Tournament."
EMU's women notched Bechler's 100th career victory in her 10th season, but struggled through an up-and-down year before a wild loss at Shenandoah on the last game of the season denied them a berth in the ODAC Tournament.
"Last year was tough," Bechler explained. "I don't believe anyone on the team wants to experience another season similar to last season. The door is open for welcomed changes to occur from the way we go about teaching and practicing and playing."
While the women do bring back 11 experienced players, they also need to replace two all-conference performers and more than half of their goals from last year. Graduated midfielders Adriana Santiago (8g/6a/22p) and Jessica Blanks (10g/4a/24p) are gone, leaving voids in leadership and points.
"It is always a significant loss when you graduate your top scorers," said Bechler. "We will make some creative adjustments and give opportunity for others to spend more time on the attacking end of the field. Our approach may change but we know we have individuals who have grown in their confidence and are ready to take their game to the next level to become an offensive threat."
Juniors Jenessa Derstine (Harleysville, Pa./Christopher Dock) and Michelle Zook (Allensville, Pa./Belleville Mennonite) are expected to step up. Derstine was named All-ODAC Third Team for the second time last year after tallying three goals and three assists. Zook moved into a starting role in her second season and caged eight goals.
Classmate Bethany Hench (Carlisle, Pa./Carlisle) will again anchor the defense. She earned an All-ODAC Second Team nod in 2012 while adding three assists to the attack.
Bechler pointed out that a strength this year will be a focus on the team.
"We are foregoing captains this year and allowing everyone to lead in the area that they are best suited for," she said. "Everyone has an important role on the field and off the field. As they each cultivate their individual skills and abilities and share the leadership of the team, they will be a stronger, more successful team. This is where our strength lies."
With the recent addition of Shenandoah, and the general increase in the level of play in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, Eastern Mennonite knows they will have to work hard to rebound from their first-ever sub-.500 conference record.
"The ODAC continues to get more competitive each year," said Bechler. "This is very exciting and great for our conference. But for us personally it means we need to continually stay on top of our game to compete in the postseason. This is a challenge we are excited to take on.
The Lady Royals open their 2013 campaign with five straight road games, starting at Gettysburg on Aug. 30. Their home opener is Sept. 14 against Mary Washington.