It didn’t take long for two of the top field hockey programs in the nation to square off in an early season match that could go a long way in determining the balance of power in the PSAC East.
Bloomsburg, the coaches’ choice to win the PSAC East in field hockey, and West Chester, a team picked to finish second in the PSAC East in its first season in the league after spending the last 15 years in the Division I Atlantic 10 conference, face off at Vonnie Gros Field this afternoon.
The Huskies enter the match ranked third in the country in Division II, behind the University of Massachusetts-Lowell; the Golden Rams were ranked fifth in the season opening poll. With the new poll due to be released later today, it’s expected that Bloomsburg and West Chester will be ranked first and second.
The Huskies are owners of 16 national championships, including seven of the last nine NCAA Division II titles (2002-2004 and 2006-2009); the Golden Rams’ last national title came in the pre-NCAA era (1975-1978).
The Huskies opened the season with three wins – a Sept. 1 3-1 win at Adelphi, a 9-1 thrashing of #4 Stonehill Sept. 3 and a 1-0 home win over #2 Shippensburg, a team that advanced to the NCAA championship before losing the finals to UMass-Lowell.
The Golden Rams opened up their season with a pair of wins in Waltham, Mass. – a 4-1 win over #10 Bentley to open the season Sept. 2, then following that win up with a 4-3 overtime upset of defending national champion and top-ranked Lowell the next day.
Although it’s the first full week of league play in the PSAC, today’s match in West Chester will set the tone for the rest of the season. While the Golden Rams have shown they can compete – and defeat – a national powerhouse in UMass-Lowell, how will they stack up against a Bloomsburg program that has their own reputation as one of the top programs in Division II?
SCOUTING BLOOMSBURG: The Huskies’ three leading scorers return after leading the team to a national semifinals, where they lost to Shippensburg. First-team All-American Amanda Riley, who recorded 22 goals and 17 assists last season, and second-team All-PSAC East selection Lauren McGinley, the team’s second leading scorer with 12 goals and three assists anchors a Bloomsburg offense ranked third in the nation in scoring average, goals per game and points per game last season. Jenna DiSabatino, who registered 10 goals and three assists, scored the lone goal against Shippensburg with five minutes remaining in regulation, avenging the Huskies 1-0 loss to the Red Raiders in the 2010 NCAA semifinals.
Though Riley and McGinley are expected to be the focal point of the Huskies’ offensive attack, junior Brooke Simonovich, who leads the team with three goals, and senior Linsday Danz, who has two goals and two assists on the season, are a pair of bench players to also keep an eye out for. Both Simonovich and Danz recorded a pair of goals against Stonehill in Bloomsburg’s home opener.
The Bloomsburg midfield lost two key players to graduation, however Amber Aulenbach anchors a midfield that may not have had as many starts as the players they’re replacing, but are experienced. Cassie Sabatino, Kate Bruce and Samantha Facciolla saw significant playing time last season.
Junior goalie Meghan Hollenbach anchors a defense that recorded the third lowest goals against average in the nation. Hollenbach, who recorded 19 wins in 21 starts for the Huskies last season, will get help from a pair of senior defenders – Betsy Renn and Becca Sherman.
SCOUTING WEST CHESTER: After playing in the Atlantic 10 conference for the past 15 years, West Chester is adjusting to Division II better than many expected. Their season opening wins against Bentley and UMass-Lowell showed the rest of the PSAC that the Golden Rams were worthy of their #5 ranking in the pre-season polls.
After nine consecutive losing seasons, the Golden Rams replaced long-time head coach Kathy Krannebitter and hired Amy Cohen to take the reins of a team that was hindered by injuries to a pair of key offensive weapons last season.
Seniors Leah Angstadt and Kate Zunski return from injuries that ended their 2010 season to anchor a front line that also features senior tri-captain Nicole Fiorilla, the team’s leading scorer with six goals, and junior Alisha Moran, who recorded five goals for the Rams last season. Angstadt moves from the midfield to the front line this season.
Junior Michelle Schrift is already making an impact in the midfield, scoring twice against Lowell, including the game winning goal in overtime. Schrift earned PSAC East Athlete of the Week honors for her performance in West Chester’s 4-3 upset of the defending national champions. Sophomore Nancy Stehman, along with juniors Molly Herlihy and Lauren Schott, are experienced players for the Rams who join Schrift in the midfield.
After last season’s platoon between Kristin Arnold and Gabby Panasiewicz, Cohen has decided to stick with Arnold. The junior from Coopersburg has played in both games from start to finish this season, which should help stabilize an experienced defense. Seniors Brynn Adams and Karly Herb are joined by a pair of sophomores who gained valuable playing time last season – Kelsi Lykens and Stef Pirri.
PREDICTION:While West Chester’s first two games as a Division II program have undoubtedly revitalized a program long on tradition but short on recent results, Bloomsburg has shown over the past decade that they are the dominant force in Division II and the PSAC. This will be a closely contested match, however, the Huskies appear poised to remain atop the PSAC East with a key road win today. Bloomsburg 3, West Chester 2.
Creighton Rabs covers West Chester University athletics for knotmove.com. He is neither affiliated with nor employed by West Chester University. Follow him on Twitter at @WCURamReporter for live coverage of selected events and other updates.