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
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 IIAs 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 IIIOnce 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.
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.