SEASON PREVIEW: Taking The Next Step

Lauren Hartzler (left) and Skylar Hedgepeth (center) will be two of EMU's leaders this year. (photo by Scott Eyre)
Lauren Hartzler (left) and Skylar Hedgepeth (center) will be two of EMU's leaders this year. (photo by Scott Eyre)

Entering their third season on Coach Ashley Kishorn, the EMU field hockey team is looking to keep the momentum moving forward to bring this program back to competing at a high level.

The Royals return a lot of players from the 2018 team which earned the most wins in nearly a decade. They are also excited to host an early season alumni day, honoring the former players from one of EMU's flagship programs.

Record in 2018: 8-11 (1-7 ODAC)
Coach: Ashley Kishorn (13-23 overall, 1-14 ODAC in two seasons) - Kishorn led the Royals to the most wins since 2011 in just her second season.

Season opener in 2018:
- host Lancaster Bible on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 2:00pm
Other season highlights:
- EMU Field Hockey Alumni Day on Saturday, Sept. 14 hosting Juniata at 3:00pm
- begin conference play at Randolph-Macon on Wednesday, Oct. 9
- host Washington and Lee during Homecoming Weekend on Saturday, Oct. 12
- Rowdy Royals Game and celebrate Senior Recognition against Shenandoah on Saturday, Nov. 2

SID: How would you recap 2018 in a couple of sentences, and how does that play into your team for this fall?

AK: I would recap 2018 as a season with tremendous growth. We had the best start for Royals FH in a decade, improved statistically, had exciting games, and earned a conference win. While all of that improvement is important and impressive, we want to continue to grow and we have bigger goals this year - continue to make progress, but make the ODAC Tournament.

SID: The team only graduated two seniors, but one of them (Kelsey Troyer) started 51 games in goal and left as the program leader in career saves.  How will you replace them?

AK: Yes, Kelsey started 51 games in cage over the past four years and played all but 35 minutes the past two seasons, so she has definitely been a constant on the defensive end and will be missed. We have two freshmen goalkeepers coming in who will both have to work hard to compete for the position and have big shoes to fill. Julie Burkhardt was our other graduating senior and the team will need to bring her energy and spirit; despite suffering from an injury last year, she was a vital part of our team dynamic.

SID: Led by Skylar Hedgepeth, an All-ODAC Honoree, the underclassmen scored 88% of last year's goals.  What does all that returning offense mean to the team?

AK: Goal scoring and taking effective powerful shots was something we focused on last season. We are hoping to score even more goals this year, but also want to put the ball in the cage during important situations late in the game. There were a few games last year with 10 minutes or fewer left where we had multiple opportunities to score but didn't. We will be looking for more of our attack players to step up in these important moments.

SID: What was it like for you as a coaching staff to see players starting to flourish in the second year of your system?

AK: It was wonderful! We have many young women on the roster that have been buying into the strength and conditioning program, treating their bodies right by providing the necessary fuel needed to compete, and taking the coaching staff's comments to continue to improve their field hockey skills. It paid off statistically and by viewing our record, but we are hungry for more. 

SID: Who are your key returners and what roles do you expect them to play this year?

AK: Madeline Mast is a senior returning with a lot of experience. She has started every single game since arriving on campus as a freshman and rarely comes out of the game. She has stepped up in a leadership role and has been open to changing her position whenever needed in order to help the team. Don't be surprised to see Mads do big things and anchor our defense this year!

Clover Cooper and Lauren Hartzler are two players that come in and work hard every single day. They never work less than 110%. They were our captains as sophomores last year and we will continue to look to them in leadership roles. We are also hopeful that they will be able to step up in the midfield and help us out on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, obviously we will be looking to Skylar to score more and make the most of scoring opportunities. Hannah Nichols was our right wing last year and has incredible speed - when she gets the ball in open space, watch out! We will continue to work on those runs. Casey Webb will be returning to EMU this fall and we are excited about her versatility. She will fill a role in either the midfield or could potentially be moved to the forward line in hopes of adding more of an offensive spark.

SID: Who will play key roles in the defensive unit in front of your new goalie?

AK: We decided at the end of last season that we really need to cut down on Goals Allowed. 3.32 GAA was an improvement, but there were important ODAC games where we allowed impermissible goals. Our defense will have to work even harder this year with two new GK's coming in and step up to limit goal scoring opportunities for our opponents. Rising sophomore Brandy Troutman did an incredible job last year as part of the defense as a first-year player. She tied for 2nd in the ODAC with 7 defensive saves (21st in the nation.) We will definitely lean on her to communicate with her fellow defenders and new GK's. Classmate Rachel Breslin will more than likely make the transition to defense as well in an effort to limit the amount of goals scored. She is always poised in games and has remarkable stick skills to weave around her opponents. She also has the competitive mindset to stop others in their tracks to win games. Rachel Musselman, Molly King, and Bri Miller are players who have experience all over the field as well and will look to make their mark in the midfield and defense this season.

SID: Tell me a bit about your incoming recruiting class.  First an overarching comment on the group as a whole, and then mention a few individuals and what roles they might play in their first year.

AK: What sticks out most about this incoming class is their passion for the game. I think they are going to bring a ton of enthusiasm and production in their first year here at EMU. Despite graduating only two seniors, no position is guaranteed and the best combination of 11 players will be on the field; I believe many of our incoming freshmen have the opportunity to make an immediate impact on the field. Morgan Tricarico is an All-State high school athlete who has a knack for scoring. We are hoping the transition to college field hockey will be smooth and she will continue her scoring habits. Keely Mitchell, Cassie Sumpolec, Juliana Ghally, and Zion Boutte will bring fresh faces to the roster. We will look for them to earn time and contribute on the field this season.

SID: There will be someone new in front of the cage this year.  What are you expecting out of the goalkeeper position this year?

AK: As I mentioned, we are hoping our midfield and defensive unit will have the mindset of allowing as few scoring opportunities as possible in the defensive circle because of the brand-new goalkeepers. However, we are excited about their potential! Ann Ghally and Arianna Nixon will be looking to share time in the cage. Both have a lot of experience and leadership potential. Ann has excellent command of the cage and Arianna communicates extremely well. Coach Anna (Cooke) is excited to work with her two "newbies" to help mold them and help them become the best possible version of themselves!

SID: What does it mean for you and the team to be hosting a Field Hockey Alumni Day this year?

AK: EMUFH has rich traditions and success throughout time. However, there has been a lot of coaching turnover within the last 10 years. We want to make our alumni feel appreciated and welcome them back to campus which was their previous home for four years. I think our players could learn a lot from their experiences both on the field hockey field as well as their career paths. We appreciate their support and time dedicated to EMUFH and want them to feel comfortable coming to visit anytime!

SID: What is something you will be specifically watching or working on this preseason?

AK: Our coaching staff will be watching for who has prepared over the past 10 months for the season, who is giving 110%, and who is ready to give it their all on the field. Again, we want to make the most of scoring opportunities, especially when the game is on the line, limit goals allowed, and have fun in the process. We have more intense practices scheduled for this year during preseason, but also more time for team bonding.

SID: What will the strengths of your team be?

AK: This will be the largest roster in at least 18 years with seven incoming freshmen and a total roster size of 18. With this, we will have more depth, options, and competition for playing time. This will help us in our quest to make the ODAC Tournament in November. Another strength of this team is their cohesiveness and care for one another. I know that our upperclassmen will continue to welcome our freshmen with open arms and continue to be a tight-knit team.

SID: Overall general feeling for 2019?

AK: Excitement. Our coaching staff has been anxiously awaiting this season since 2018 ended. There is a lot of potential for success and we can't wait to see what's in store. Our theme this year is to, "Be Bold. Be You." We are a diverse team in which every teammate brings something unique and different to campus. We want to take advantage of our various strengths and use it to build a strong force within the conference.