Categorized | Sports

Wooster field hockey celebrates record-setting season

Ben Blotner

Senior Sports Writer

Saeed Husain

Sports Editor

 

For the first time since 2010, the Wooster field hockey team made it all the way to the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Championship game, but the impressive run fell just short as Denison University edged out the Fighting Scots for the title. A 2-1 overtime victory over Kenyon College on Wednesday, Oct. 31 had sent Wooster to the final round before the Big Red came out on top 2-0 on Saturday, Nov. 3.

In the semifinal, home at the John P. Papp Stadium, Sydney Schuster ’21 came up with the game-winning goal in the 77th minute of the semifinal game, propelling Wooster into the finale. Caitlyn O’Connor ’21 got the assist as she executed a pass to Schuster, who faked out Kenyon keeper Suzy Deems ’22 before scoring the decider. It was Schuster’s 21st goal of the season, topping the NCAC charts.

The score had been tied at 1-1 for over 50 minutes before the Scots finally broke the stalemate. Maeven Barry ’19 got Wooster on the board first with a goal in the 21st minute, also on an assist from O’Connor. Kenyon tied it shortly after when Paulina Mendez ’21 scored in the 24th minute.

Scots keeper Katie Shideler ’21 was impressive throughout, blocking several tough Kenyon shots in the early going and racking up 10 saves overall. The Ladies’ Tara Shetty ’21 was robbed on a pair of point-blank shots in the eighth minute, then set herself up for a one-on-one opportunity against Shideler in overtime only to be denied again.

In the championship game, Denison’s offense came up with a pair of goals in the first half and never looked back. The Big Red’s AC Veith ’22 scored in the eighth minute off an assist from Abby Scully ’21 for a 1-0 lead. Denison then missed three different chances to add to the lead, thanks to strong defensive work by Shideler and Emma Hambright ’20. However, in the 18th minute, Charlotte Godfrey ’21 tipped in a pass from Kat Swan ’19 to make it a 2-0 Denison edge.

Shideler and the other defenders continued to keep it close, as Wooster tried to find its stride offensively but ended up with only two real scoring opportunities. The first time, Denison’s defense bore down and did not allow the Scots to get a shot attempt off. In the 60th minute, Wooster caught a bad break when a would-be goal by Sammi Pavlecic ’21 was nullified because it hit Erika Womack ’19 on the way into the cage. Considering that the Big Red took 18 shots compared to Wooster’s one, the Scots did a remarkable job of hanging in the game.

“In no way should we be disappointed with how we played; we gave it everything we had until the clock hit zero,” said Womack. “I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my last 70 minutes as a [Wooster field hockey] player with anyone else.”

   A record season

The second spot was their highest position in the conference since 2010, which coincidentally was also the last time they won the conference championship, against Wittenberg University.

“I wanted us to finish in the top half of the conference this year,” said Coach Jill Dixon, who is in her first year managing the team. 

The last time they finished at least fourth was in 2013, with a negative overall record of 9-10 and a tied NCAC 7-7. This year, the Scots were 15-6 overall (playing two more games because of their final appearance), NCAC 10-4.

Additionally, on home turf this year, the Scots were nearly insurmountable. Their lone loss out of 10 games was against eventual tournament winners, Denison, losing 2-0, which was coincidentally the same margin with which they lost to the Big Red in the final. 

Strong forward 

line and backend

The team has been an offensive powerhouse this year, scoring 69 goals at an average of 3.3 per game, both numbers being the highest overall amongst conference teams this year. The Scots outscored their nearest competitor in the most goals, Denison, by 19, and in the average by 0.7, from Ohio Wesleyan University. Shooting 376 shots this season, they trailed from the top flight by just five. 

The team overall improved their average goals per game by 0.8 from just last season. This was also their highest average since 2010. The Scots kept a more disciplined year on the field as well, accounting for six green cards compared to 14 last year.

For Wooster, Schuster scored as many as her class year, leading the conference overall. Her teammate O’Connor, scored 15. Schuster also led the pack with 72 shots on goal, leading fellow teammate Womack by 21. 

Schuster, O’Connor and Womack were also in the top-five of the leading points for the conference, accumulating 47, 33 and 26 respectively, with Schuster once again the NCAC leader. 

Shideler, the netminder for the Scots this year, has blocked out a 146 goals, only second in the conference overall, and has kept a save percentage of .844, leading the NCAC.

Changing the 

team’s culture

In an earlier interview with the Voice, Coach Dixon had emphasized how the team dynamic was to shift each year depending on the squad, and how constructing a team culture was critical to the sustainability of the program. 

“I knew coming in that we were going to make a culture change. Players were going to be exposed to a new system and coaching style,” she said. 

For the senior class, Coach Dixon is the third coach they have had in four years. After long-time Coach Brenda Messe left, Elizabeth Ford, the fulltime lacrosse coach, came in as an interim coach.

“Coach Ford did a really good job with them last year, not only preparing them for the transition to a new coach, but also pushing them physically and pushing them mentally,” said Dixon.

“Evaluating a successful season for us was that we were elevating the program from last year. We were moving in a direction that was building a type of team culture that we believed was going to get us towards the championship game, and we did it all in one season.”

The building of a team culture off the field was perhaps important as well, with Dixon herself a biology and math double major at her alma mater. 

“Of course off the field I think they take care of the academic side very well on their own, so I never felt like I needed to micromanage or anything like that,” said Dixon.

The Scots received the National Team Academic Award from the NFHCA for their academic achievements last year, and 11 members were individually recognized.

Focusing on the 

big picture

Dixon cited looking at the big picture as the major difference between this season and the last one. The team philosophy revolved around being ready for games late in the year, and consistently performing throughout the season.

“I think the biggest difference was that I was able to come in with a bigger picture plan, and then articulating to the girls how every day fit into that. We’re not just trying to win on Saturday, we’re trying to win on Nov. 3. We have to get better knowing what our end game is,” she said.

Practices were different for the team this year as well, with Dixon letting her players know beforehand what they should be ready for. 

“I would post the practice plans prior [to practice], and so they would know what to expect leading up to gameday. We were always preparing for those teams that weekend and the different challenges they would present us, but it was always within the bigger picture of what we were trying to do,” said Dixon.

Womack commented how this was something new for the team this year, how it allowed the players to be focused on what they were doing.

“We knew that we were going for 20 minutes of conditioning that day, so we could go hard and get it done, but if we didn’t know the practice plan we could think that we’ll be doing this forever,” she said.

Standout moments

There are sometimes moments in a season where a coach or team knows that they will achieve special things. For Coach Dixon, this was the very first day of practice.

When Coach Dixon was confirmed as coach late last year, the team was given a conditioning packet which even held expectations for each class year. Individuals were also given free reign to improve themselves in areas they felt they needed to be stronger. 

On the moment where she felt the team had it in them to be contenders this season, Dixon commented, “The very first day of preseason, them [the team] coming in and crushing our fitness tests. That told me that they bought in the beginning of the summer. Regardless of if they did everyday of the workout or not, that wasn’t as important to me as the fact that they were ready to go come day one,” she said.

This was integral to how Dixon had planned out their practice and season schedule. A lack of fitness would have meant that more time was required before they could move onto other facets of the game.

Giving the player perspective, Womack agreed, saying that the team knew what had to be done even before their first practice. 

“It was very well understood that we needed to come in with a lot of conditioning so that we didn’t have to spend a lot of time working up to that level. When we had our first meeting with Coach Dixon, she was very adamant that ‘We’re gonna come in, and we need to be here [at this level,’ so we could start focusing on other things.”

Regarding gameplay in particular, Dixon stated that the match against Kenyon in the regular season at home was a moment that stood out. In that game, the Scots and the Ladies were locked at 2-2 when the game was forced into double overtime and then a penalty shootout, where the home team scored on three strokes to take the win.

“When we took Kenyon into double overtime and beat them in penalty shootouts, at that point I knew that we were going to do big things,” said Dixon. “There’s so much behind the scenes that happens that I think people miss, and just so much growing for myself and for the girls on the team, but at that point it was clear to the conference and clear to everybody else that watched us that, we were a threat,” she said.

“During that game, to have players coming into the circle and saying like, ‘This is why we do conditioning in Tuesday practice,’ or ‘This is why we do one vs. ones,’ and so it’s really nice to see how the players connect practice to a game,” she said.

Pride in the program

Dixon was especially pleased with how the profile of the field hockey team grew this year.

“I had professors I had never met before emailing me about players, I had people stopping me and saying, ‘Oh, you’re the field hockey coach!’ and I can only imagine the same happening for the girls too,” she said. “And just like getting that recognition, especially for the seniors looking at their first year to their last year — that’s a huge accomplishment, and so I think we built a lot of pride into who we are as a program and where we’re going.”

Learning from 

the lows

The team had a phenomenal start to the year when in their first game they crushed Wells College 14-1. That took them on a 5-0 win-streak which broke against Denison on Saturday, Sept. 15.

“Denison is a great team, and you don’t ever go into a game expecting to lose, but the reality was that we would probably lose a game this year. I know how I would respond as a player, and there were times that I responded like that where I should have responded as a coach.”

“There are moments in those games where the players start to get down, and it took a few losses for me to learn how to communicate with key players on the field in certain games to pick up the team morale.”

That led to Dixon changing things around, focusing on individual strengths and understanding her team better. 

“I have things which I do with a certain player on the sideline which I don’t do with anybody else, and so the understanding is that if I’m screaming her name, she knows what that means,” she said.

That brought the season back on track for the Scots again, going back to winning ways. “Once those started happening, we were able to pull it together in those tough moments where we started playing individually, started yelling at each other and things were breaking down. It would just allow in that moment for everyone to re-center and remember that we still have a job to do and we still have time in the clock — that this isn’t about me, this is about the team,” said Dixon.

Plans for the 

Scots’ offseason

This will be the first off-season with the Scots for Dixon, and her plans are to dissect areas of weakness. Coach Dixon emphasizes the need to get faster and stronger, and in the next semester, taking a more skill-oriented approach to develop play and incorporate them into matches.

Dixon knows that this season’s finish has set the bar high. For the following season, she does not mince words, saying, “I expect that we will make it to the conference tournament next year.” 

“We have six seniors graduating this year, with four starting positions, and so if first-years come in and crush it, they might see the field really early. The following year is really exciting because we only have three graduating, and if we make the championship next year, win or lose, we will win the next year. Our current sophomore class is strong, and looking at three years of direct coaching for them, I think that will lead them to great things,” she said.

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