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American Today



Field Hockey Looks to Continue Patriot League Dominance

By Mike Unger

Photo: Field hockey coach Steve Jennings

Coach Steve Jennings and his AU field hockey team. (Photo: AU Athletics)

What will be the story of the 2010 American University field hockey team?

We know how the last seven chapters have ended: with Patriot League regular season and tournament titles. Coach Steve Jennings is an avid reader—this summer he devoured Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, among other books—so he knows how he’d like this latest one to unfold.

“If you don’t create a rich storyline for your team and what your program’s trying to do, then it’s just hockey,” he said. “Each year is its own special voyage. Those banners are up, and we can’t replay those games. We’re only playing for the next one. We have to make sure that we live in the moment.”

It’s an existential approach that seems to mesh with his high-energy team, which returns 11 players including captains Kirstin Gebhart, Christine Fingerhuth, and Anne van Erp.

“They lead by example and really set the tone for the group,” Jennings said. “But we’re lucky that there are so many players, both freshmen and returners, that have been able to fill roles beside them.”

Juniors Melissa Casale and Natalie Ellenberger, in particular, appear poised to take a leap forward this year, Jennings said. Newcomers Shelly Montgomery and international student-athletes Constanza Palma (Chile) and Lotte van de Mierop (Belgium) have infused a breath of fresh air into the program.

“We’re tremendously excited about their attitude and what they’ve brought to the team,” Jennings said.

Already there’s been one tangible addition: goals. In a preseason scrimmage against the University of Delaware, freshmen scored eight of AU’s 10 goals, a feat Jennings called “remarkable.”

The task of stopping opposing shots falls initially on the shoulders of senior keeper Hannah Weitzman, but Jennings doesn’t rule out playing freshmen Stephanie Burry or Ashley Dalisera.

“Hannah has done a great job so far, and she’s worked exceptionally hard for the last three years,” he said. “But our freshmen we’ve brought in also have done a great job, so we’re excited about the dynamic we have around here.”

In order to improve on last year’s 12-9 record, AU must own the close games that last season slipped away.

“We outplayed a lot of the top 10 teams in the county last year, and unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the score line by one goal,” Jennings said. “We have to find a way to get the one goal wins and close out those teams that we proved we were better than in the domination of the field of the play. But in the end, it’s only the scoreboard that matters.”

Lighting up the Jacobs Field scoreboard shouldn’t be a problem for these Eagles, who play an entertaining, up-tempo brand of hockey.

“We are tremendously exciting on the offensive end,” Jennings said. “We are great at using the ball in space and going forward. We really move the ball quickly and well. But we’re going to have to get a little more proficient at being able to be tough and physical at a slogging match in case we come up against some good teams that deny that space. We have our work cut out for us.”

After more than a half-decade of Patriot League dominance, winning conference crowns still never gets old. But a trip deep into the NCAA Tournament—perhaps to the Final Four?—would be a perfect ending to the story the AU field hockey team is about to write.