2012 College Season Preview

Aug. 23, 2012, 6:01 p.m. (ET)
Wow! Yes, that was delayed, but it seems to be the only word to describe the last four minutes of the 2011 Division I National Championship game.  As I watched these two teams battle on my alma mater’s turf in chilly November rain, my mouth could not help but gape. Personally, I was ready to leave and exit the stadium in search of warm, dry shelter, as North Carolina commanded the game with a 2-0 lead and 4:45 left on the clock. But of course Missy Meharg and her Terrapins did not care about my soaked socks or the damp seat of my jeans, as they snatched the game right from under UNC and claimed the 2011 National Title. 

Many congratulations go the Maryland squad, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more exciting four minutes of field hockey. But when all the celebration was complete and the field was clear, I looked back at the scoreboard to read “Maryland” and “North Carolina” and my stomach turned a little. 

If you aren’t directly related to either UNC or Maryland, you know what I’m talking about. These two teams have met in the Finals for the last three straight years. Either North Carolina or Maryland has claimed the crown for seven consecutive years. Not to mention a non-ACC team hasn’t won the Title since 2001. That means North Carolina incoming freshman and recently named U.S. National Team Member, Emily Wold was in 2nd grade when this pattern began. Yikes!

So as we look to 2012… We respect the past and the domination these two teams have demonstrated, but we also look to the future as chance to change history. As you finish up your gruesome summer runs, I’ll ask one question: Why not your team? By now the Letters of Intent are signed, the schedules made and spring conditioning has finished, but it is not too late to commit to shaking things up and bringing a National Championship home to somewhere else than Chapel Hill or College Park. 

Now regardless of all the underdogs in the country, there is a reason why Missy Meharg’s squad has brought home five NCAA trophies in the last seven years… They’re good. Really good. And 2012 will be no different. Even with the losses of All-ACC powerhouse Jenna Buckley, the Terrapins will add a very strong recruiting class, with six incoming players, three of which currently play on the US Under-19 Team. These new youngsters combined with the strength and speed of the returning Terps is dangerous. I mean have you seen U.S. Developmental Team Member and All-American forward, Jill Witmer move? I thought turtles were supposed to be slow…

Karen Shelton’s Tar Heels will have plenty of fuel for their fire as they begin the 2012 season, but they’ll have to replace perhaps the best to ever wear Carolina Blue in graduating redshirt senior and U.S. National Team member, Katelyn Falgowski. However with all endings, comes a new beginning as arguably the nation’s top high school recruit, Emily Wold, enters UNC this fall. She’ll be welcomed by yet another strong Carolina squad and fellow U.S. National Team teammate Kelsey Kolojejchick, as they take the turf in Chapel Hill in search of the program’s first National Championship since 2009.

After an astonishing 22-3 run last year, Old Dominion's Beth Anders, who will retire after this 2012 season, and her squad will hope to again compete for a National Title. Only this time at home, as the Monarchs will play host to the 2012 NCAA National Championship at Powhatan Sports Complex on November 22 and 23rd in Norfolk, Virginia. What a perfect story! To send Anders, who will have spent 30 seasons with ODU and has more wins than any other coach in NCAA Division I field hockey, into retirement with her 10th National Championship… at home? I mean you can’t write that stuff. Not to mention, the last time ODU won the big prize in 2000, they also hosted the tournament. But the home turf advantage will have to make up for the losses of All-CAA honorees Emma Batten, Devon Seifert, and Stephanie Kratzer. 

If I had one word to describe the UConn Huskies, it would be consistency. When watching Nancy Stevens’ squads, there is rarely a star that shines too bright or too dull, it’s consistent hockey across the board. Why is this so dangerous? Because that means no matter who is on the pitch for UConn, they will be solid. So even if the Huskies, who only just missed the chance to play in the 2011 NCAA Championship Game, have to fill some holes left by 7 graduating seniors, I wouldn’t count them down and out.

After topping eventual National Champion, Maryland, in the ACC Semifinals, Pam Bustin’s Blue Devils know they are capable of beating the best. The team that ended the 2010 season with a losing record and quick ACC Tournament exit, came under the helm of Bustin for a noteworthy 2011 and a trip to the Elite Eight. My thoughts? It’s only getting started. Duke Field Hockey and 2011 ACC Coach of the Year, Pam Bustin, are just warming up, but that gruesome ACC schedule will undoubtedly present a few tests.

Another always consistent team comes from Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. In the past few years Penn State has won some Big Ten titles and done well in the NCAA Tournament. All extremely difficult and admirable accomplishments, but they have yet to really push in to the threshold of the Top 5 or make a Final Four appearance since 2007. The wait might be over. Char Morrett’s Nittany Lions will return nine starters from last year’s squad, including a pair of stellar sophomores with Laura Gebhart and Jenna Chrismer, and junior Lauren Purvis. 

The loss of a 3 of the 4 All-Big East honorees class shouldn’t keep the always tough to beat Syracuse Orange down for long. Ange Bradley returns her leading scorer and a team who was just edged in Maryland and overtime of the second round of NCAAs. The reigning Big East Champions will look to protect their crown and advance back the Final Four for the first time since 2008. 

Big Homecomings
Not sure if you have heard, but London hosted some sort of all-sport tournament this summer. Apparently it was pretty big, because four Division I student athletes missed the beginning of their collegiate seasons to attend. 

Kristen Holmes-Winn, welcomes back Olympians and sisters Julia and Katie Reinprecht to her Princeton squad who will look to return to the top ten of the NCAA Rankings. The Tigers will also have the help of U.S. National Team members Kat Sharkey and Michelle Cesan.

While a little further south, Michelle Madison and the Virginia Cavaliers, celebrated the return of Michelle Vittese and Paige Selenski to Charlottesville. Potential ‘X-Factor’ for the Cavs? Vittese and Selenski won’t have much adjusting to do, because like the turf at the London Games, UVA’s turf is also blue.

Who else to look out for?

The squad will look to replace only one senior after a 15-5 season last year with West Region Coach of the Year, Iowa's Tracey Griesbaum, at the helm for her 13th year with the Hawkeyes. Goalkeeper Kathleen McGraw, better known as ‘Birdie’, was recently named to the US Developmental Team member and will take her senior year between the pipes. The Hawkeyes will undoubtedly look to capture the coveted Big 10 Title and another trip to the Final Four. 

California's Shellie Onstead will hope to continue the success of a strong 2011 season, but will have to do so with the loss of NorPac Tournament MVP, Goalkeeper Maddie Hand. It’s almost 2 years old and not quite as exciting as watching them play hockey, but I still find myself watching the Golden Bears field hockey team timeless rendition of Chris Brown’s ‘I Love You’ on YouTube, do check it out. 

I’ve only highlighted 11 of the 79 NCAA Divisions I teams. Right now as you read this, all 79 teams are dead even, 0-0, and its all fair game. I mean think of all the underdogs and upsets you’ve witness, who says it can’t be you? The interesting thing is, it’s just as much mental as it as actual skill. 

Division II

As we take a look at Division II Field Hockey, again we find a pattern of dominance. Only this time between Bloomsburg and UMass Lowell. While Bloomsburg has claimed 7 of the last 10 National Title, UMass Lowell claimed the title twice and came runner up 5 times. But last year was different, for the first time in 10 years someone other than those two took home the title. 

The West Chester Golden Rams took home their first ever National Championship and finished the season 17-4 after joining the Division II league last year. Head coach Amy Cohen will have to replace 5 strong seniors, but will surely look to make another appearance in the big dance.  

UMass Lowell head coach, Shannon Hlebichuk, will return a strong squad with only the loss of two senior midfielders. The River Hawks were narrowly defeated by the Golden Rams and will definitely look for a rematch in 2012.

Division III

Once again, we find a broken trend, this time set by Salisbury and Bowdoin. The two teams have dominated Division III field hockey for years, decades even. But the ladies of The College of New Jersey and Middlebury, have quickly become the new kids on the block.   

The defending 2011 National Champions, under the Sharon Pfluger, brings the TCNJ a title for the first time since 1999. Is a repeat possible? Surely, Pfluger will return Kathleen Notos and Erin Waller, goal scorers from the Finals. 

Middlebury will lose 5 seniors, including goalkeeper Becca Shaw, but return New England Regional Player of the year, Lauren Greer and All-Tournament selections Elinore O'Brien and Charlotte Gardiner. Perhaps the Panthers can capture it all this year.

Although 3 of the last five titles have gone to the Nicky Pearson’s Bowdoin team, a quick exit from the 2011 NCAA Tournament at the hands Middlebury, should give the team motivation to add another title in 2012. Ursinus and Salisbury will also look to make their ways back to always competitive Final Four. If there were a Final Five, I am sure these five teams would be there, but due to simple mathematical division, that’s not possible, so we will have to wait and see. 

So there you have it! My take on what’s to come this fall. I am sure it won’t be accurate and might not even be close, but that, in fact, is the beauty of sports. No one can predict or plan what will happen in game or in a season and it’s why we love it so much, the unpredictability. I think back to last October as I watched the U.S. Women’s National Team qualify for London with a historical Pan Am victory. It was crazy and exciting, and hand’s down one of the greatest upsets I’ve seen as they toppled then No. 1 world ranked Argentina after years of falling to them in the final. It’s never too big of a dream, it’s you and your team and a ball. Nothing is impossible. Good Luck!

Simone Attles is an avid NCAA Field Hockey fan and a graduate of the University of Louisville, where she also played field hockey. She currently works for USA Field Hockey as the Youth Development and Marketing Coordinator. Her views are that of her own and are in no way expert.