WASHINGTON – The American University field hockey team is making its return to the turf this weekend as the Eagles open their 2017 slate on the road against Richmond at 5 p.m. on Friday.
The Eagles enter the season as one of the top 25 Division I programs in the country, coming in at No. 21 in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) Preseason Poll. The team returns seven starters from the 2016 Patriot League championship squad and was selected as No. 1 in the PL Preseason Poll with 11 first-place votes from league head coaches and sports information directors.
AU had a historical run in 2016, highlighted by a return to the NCAA Tournament after clinching the Patriot League title with a 1-0 victory over Boston University.
"Last year was a great stretch run," head coach Steve Jennings said. "We faced a lot of adversity as a team with some injuries to critical people and had to regroup on the fly without a lot of preparation time for the postseason, and the team just adopted a fantastic mentality and was able to go in and get it done. That gave us a lot of confidence and reassurance that not only do we have the talent and skill, but also the resilience to handle anything thrown our way."
After the graduation of some key players from the 2016 squad, including PL Scholar-Athlete of the Year and two-time All-Mid-Atlantic Region selection Natalie Konerth, the Eagles were able to take advantage of spring training and adjust to new leadership roles both on and off the field.
"It's a wonderful natural progression that you see every year where people suddenly feel like it's their time, they're prepared, and they have all this extra confidence because they've gone through the process," Jennings said. "They get excited to be able to have their time as the leaders who will take care of and protect the culture.
"There have been a number of people across the board who have risen up and taken on more ownership and more of the dirty work, so to speak, in keeping the team pointed in the right direction."
Among the key returners for the Eagles are three selections to the 2017 Patriot League Preseason All-League Team, starting with Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, junior Rafaela Rubas. She is joined by junior defender Rachel Stefano and senior forward Leah DiGiandomenico on the All-League squad.
Rubas emerged as one of the driving forces behind the team's scoring efforts last season, leading the Eagles in assists (seven) and coming in second for the squad in points (25) and goals (nine). She was selected as the PL Tournament MVP after scoring the game-winning goal during the tournament final against Boston University and was also selected to the All-Mid-Atlantic Region first team.
DiGiandomenico, who was third on the team last season with 19 points (seven goals, five assists) closed 2016 as a selection to the All-Patriot League Second Team along with Stefano, who served as one of the anchors of the Eagles' strong defensive line.
Other key players to look out for include senior defender Katie McCormick, senior forward Haley Bowcutt, junior forward Lucy Whalley, sophomore forward Kathryn Roncoroni, and junior goalkeeper Maura Jacobs, who was second in the league with a 1.736 goals against average.
The Eagles also welcome seven new faces for the 2017 slate, including five freshmen and a sophomore transfer with forward Jette Dieckmann (Hamburg, Germany / Gymnasium Oberalster). Dieckmann comes to AU from Limestone College where she made 18 starts for the Saints, tallying nine points off of three goals and three assists.
Rounding out the incoming class are freshmen midfielder Ella Arata (Bridgewater, N.J. / The Pennington School), forward Carlotta Borcherding (Hamburg, Germany / Gymnasium Rahlstedt), midfielder Noor Coenen (Naarden, Netherlands / Laar en Berg), midfielder Lauren Fredricks (West Chester, Pa. / West Chester East), defender Meagan Mitchell (Shaker Heights, Ohio / Shaker Heights), and forward Kelly Shulenberger (Newville, Pa. / Big Spring).
"Our incoming class gelled perfectly with the team – there has been no problem at all with the team chemistry, which has been really fun to watch," Jennings said. "There have been a number of strong performances across the board and some good takeaways already with this class – they've been learning a lot every day.
"I think, overall, we're in a good position, and we just have to work on microwaving some tactical knowledge and some technical skills in certain situations. But the team has done a good job so far, everybody's settling in great and working hard."
50 YEARS OF AU FIELD HOCKEY
This season is already set up for the history books, as the AU field hockey program celebrates 50 years since its introduction as a varsity sport. It is only fitting that this year, which also marks the 45th anniversary of Title IX, recognizes the legacy started by Hall of Fame coach and administrator Barbara J. Reimann, the program's first head coach and one of the early champions of women's sport and Title IX.
Throughout its storied history, the program has accumulated nine NCAA Tournament berths, ten conference titles, 20 All-America honors, and 78 All-Region selections, not to mention the numerous academic accolades earned by both the team and its players.
"We are thrilled to be honoring the 50th anniversary of our program," Jennings said. "We stand in awe of all the people who paved the way for us – student-athletes, administrators, and most notably, Barb Reimann, the program's first coach. Throughout the decades we have so much to be proud of, from athletic and academic excellence to the tremendous success of our alumnae in their days following graduation."
In celebration of this momentous anniversary, the Eagles will highlight key moments and people throughout the season on both AUEagles.com and on the team's social media accounts @AU_FieldHockey.
"We look forward to being able to shine the light on many people who worked hard to make our program so amazing – from grass roots to astroturf," Jennings said.
The team will extend its celebration to Alumni Weekend on October 21, when the Eagles will host Lafayette.
For the latest on AU Field Hockey, stay tuned to AUEagles.com and follow the team on Twitter @AU_FieldHockey.