William Smith College is ranked 10th in the nation according to the National Field Hockey Coaches Association preseason poll. The Herons open the 2013 season on Friday, Aug. 30, when the Oswego State Lakers visit McCooey Field for a 6 p.m. match.
The Herons are coming off a 16-4 campaign that saw them win their 10th Liberty League Championship and earn the program’s 20th NCAA tournament bid. For the second year in a row, William Smith’s title hopes were dashed by the eventual national champion, the Herons fell to Tufts 4-2 in the second round. The team could take a bit of solace in the loss from the fact that William Smith was the only team to score more than a single goal against the Jumbos during their title run.
The biggest void left by graduation is up top. The Herons will have the unenviable task of replacing first team All-American and Liberty League Offensive Player of the Year Annie Kietzman (17-19-53). She was fourth in the nation in assists per game and 20th in points per game. Kietzman broke the Heron season record for assists and finished her career tied for first in assists (39), fifth in points (125), and tied for eighth in goals (43).
Offensively, William Smith is still expected to pack quite a punch. After ranking 11th in the nation in goals per game a year ago, the Herons welcome back nine of their top 10 goal scorers. Seniors Taylor Cappello, Julia Simmons, and Amy David lead a talented group of forwards. A 2012 second team All-Liberty League pick, Cappello was sixth in the league in goals scored (14) despite missing the final seven games of the season due to injury. Simmons was tied for fourth on the team in scoring (9-2-20) in her first season as a starter. David (5-3-13) was sixth in points despite missing a seven-game stretch in the middle of the season due to injury.
Adding to that mix sophomore Erin Miller (1-0-2), UMass-Dartmouth transfer Cory Connolly, the 2012 Little East Rookie of the Year, and first-years Katlain Meyer and Alessandra Patrizio and William Smith should be faster and more explosive in the attacking third.
The starting midfield returns intact. Second team All-American Melanie O’Connor, the 2012 Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year, headlines the group. She produced 11 goals and six assists despite an increased focus on defensive responsibilities. Now with more of an offense first mindset, O’Connor could make a bid for the conference’s top offense award.
Junior Caitlin Moran (2-5-9) and sophomore Madison Finn (3-4-10) are also back from last season’s starting midfield. Moran is a steady two-way middie while Finn is developing into a top notch all-around player. Both women earned all-league honorable mention.
Junior Kendra Napierala and Miller will also work into the midfield rotation.
They will be pushed by one of the best first-year classes of midfielders in recent Heron history. Jessica Borbee, Cydney Conley, and Austen Gillen-Keeney will challenge for playing time right away.
The Herons also took a hit from graduation on the defensive end of the field. Sarah Helmer and Alyssa David took with them a wealth of experience when they accepted their diplomas in May. Seniors Morgan Atanasio and Margaret McConnell will pick up the banner of leadership on the back line. Both student-athletes have started in each of their three seasons and will anchor an otherwise untested unit.
Juniors Kayla Littler and Sarah Tompson are the top candidates to move into the starting lineup, but a deep group of first-years will also figure into the mix. Lauren Stevenson shined during preseason camp and Conley showed off her versatility by playing steady defense in addition to her midfield prowess. Lindsay Brandt, Caroline Fout, and Emily Granger also played well during camp, giving the coaching staff plenty to think about when filling out the lineup card for the opener.
In goal, Taryn Little ’13 completed her career ranked in the top 10 in school history in saves (9th, 235) and wins (7th, 26). First-year goalkeepers Biz Chirco and Amy Feda are in an open competition to take over in the cage.
As always, expectations remain high for William Smith. The Herons would be disappointed if they aren’t playing in November. William Smith will be challenged by a schedule that features four teams ranked in the preseason top 20, plus two more that received votes. The Herons host Ursinus on Sept. 7. The Bears, who eked out a 3-2 win over William Smith a year ago, are receiving votes. Ten days later, Cortland comes to Geneva looking to avenge a shootout loss to the Herons last season. The Red Dragons are also receiving votes.
William Smith will make its first Liberty League road trip to play No. 18 Rochester on Oct. 11 followed eight days later by a visit to No. 2 Montclair State. The Herons closeout their conference slate at No. 15 Skidmore on Oct. 26 and wrap up the regular season at No. 8 Messiah on Nov. 2.
One career milestone looms large on the horizon for Head Coach Sally Scatton (390-121-3). If William Smith can reach the 10-win plateau for the 24th time in Scatton’s 26 seasons, she will join a very elite group. Through the end of the 2012 season, just 13 coaches have recorded 400 career wins in collegiate field hockey, five of them in the Division III ranks.