It’s been five years since The Rock field hockey team made the PSAC tournament. It may not seem like a long time, but to put it into perspective, there is no one left from that playoff team. Not even coaches.
After that year, it felt like Slippery Rock was thrown into a bit of a rebuild. But COVID-19 and other factors have seemed to prolong that process.
Now in her third year, but technically second season with the team actually playing, head coach Rayell Wallace is looking to speed up the process after a strong first year.
“It’s good [settling into my second season on the field], the culture has definitely changed a lot in the past year, and I think that’s one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen,” Wallace said.
The team is just now starting to feel like it’s being built by Wallace and her staff. The freshman class this year is her first class that she has fully recruited, and when you add that to the veteran presence on the team it makes for an exciting change in the locker room.
“This is the first full class that I’ve recruited, there only a couple of girls in the sophomore class that I brought in, but there have been a lot of changes in the past year,” Wallace said.
The Rock finished last year with three wins in their last four games, with the highlight coming at home against Bloomsburg. Wallace and the team hoped that momentum would be able to carry into this season.
They started their season on the road in South Carolina this past weekend. They played two non-conference games to begin the year.
Their first game came against Pace University on Sunday. In the first quarter, they went down 1-0 when Noelle Meij scored. But stellar defense throughout the next 15 minutes help, them get in position for Addy Ross to tie the game.
At the start of the second half, they allowed two quick goals that turned out to be the difference in the game, but just getting back onto the field was the first step towards building familiarity with each other.
They had a quick turnaround and played their second game at 8 a.m. the next morning. Their opponent, Belmont Abbey, put the first goal on the board towards the end of the second quarter. The game featured three saves by goalkeeper Grace Burker.
The most scoring came in the third period of play. Slippery Rock put up two goals in the span of only two minutes. The goals came from Gianna Conti and Leslie Colliver. Belmont Abbey took only four minutes to tie the game up.
It wouldn’t be until overtime that the next goal was scored. Only a minute and a half into OT, Samantha Karmonick buried the ball in the back of the net.
“It was awesome to get our first win, the feeling that we felt as coaches and also that you could the girls were feeling on the field, and I feel like it’s something new to them,” Wallace said. “Everyone is so supportive of everyone else, and I feel like they’re starting to believe in themselves, and to add an overtime win on top of that [was a great feeling].”
To get a win is important, but Wallace felt that the overtime win had a greater purpose.
“I think how we won was important, it wasn’t only that we got a win, but everyone playing for each other was so big,” Wallace said.
In order to prepare for the PSAC schedule, Wallace knows how important it is to have a tough out of conference schedule to prepare for that. The PSAC has consistently had some of the top programs in the country, and that alone has been a big reason for some The Rock’s struggles, but by having tougher games before conference play begins, that gives Slippery Rock some of the edge they need.
“I think one of the best ways to prepare for those conference games is to make our out of conference games as difficult as you can to be ready for those tough conference games,” Wallace said. “But also, at practice we need to be raising the standard every day.”
The standard has already changed here with Wallace as head coach, but she also doesn’t want to put pressure on the team for their goals this season by putting numbers on what they want to accomplish.
“Our overall goal is to just keep improving, we definitely did that last season and, in the Spring, but we just need to keep going,” Wallace said.
They’ll get the chance to do just that with two straight games at home. They have their home opener on Friday against Franklin Pierce University.