The Slippery Rock University field hockey team will get its season underway this Saturday against the Yellow Jackets of American International College.
The Rock finished out last season with a record of 6-12, going a mediocre 1-9 in-conference.
Head coach Julie Swiney, who is entering her 10th year in Slippery Rock, admits that her team is young, but also touches upon the fact that it has experienced players on each level of the field.
Returning are each one of the Green and White’s top six scorers from last fall. Junior forward Kayla Ulrich led the attack with 8 goals, 18 points, and 39 shots.
“I’m excited to see her grow into her leadership role and really guide the younger attackers,” Swiney said of Ulrich. “I think that the attackers are going to be able to help her a lot more this year, which is going to be nice.”
Making sure Ulrich doesn’t have to shoulder the burden of scoring all by herself will be those who followed her scoring lead in 2018.
Forwards Jessie Trube, a sophomore, netted five scores while appearing in all 18 games off of the bench, and Courtney Page, a junior who, conversely, started every game and added three goals and a pair of assists. Junior midfielder Abby McKay has yet to miss a contest in her two years playing at SRU and buried a career-high three goals last year.
“They’ve all grown individually in terms of their skill and understanding of tactics and things like that,” Swiney said. “I think that they are going to have a lot more success this year as a group, given that they have that experience.”
Junior Maddie Murphy will man the net once again, as she played over 90 percent of the team’s minutes the year before. In 18 starts, she saved 97 shots and posted a .740 save percentage. According to Swiney, she “brings confidence, communication, and experience, which is really important in that cornerstone role of the defense.”
In front of Murphy will be a pair of senior captains. Swiney said midfielders Jordan Barnes and Kalie Reed “have a lot of experience and are going to be key to organizing that team defense.”
The head coach counts improving overall records from previous seasons as an expectation for the season.
“We’re still really in a rebuilding year, we graduated six seniors,” Swiney said. “[We’re] just really trying to be competitive within our conference and maintain our high academic achievements in the classroom. [And] continuing to grow our culture and welcome all of our underclassmen into that.”
In a league that houses the nation’s defending champion in Shippensburg, the Green and White was chosen to finish eighth in the PSAC’s annual preseason coaches’ poll.
“I think our league is so competitive that there’s really a top tier, and then there’s the rest of us,” Swiney said. “It’s just that I think we’re not quite in the top tier, but we’re in the mix with everybody else and anybody could win a game on any day. I think the [preseason assessment] is going to motivate the girls to just, as we always kind of need to do, prove ourselves within the league that we are competitive.”
One setting the team has proved time and again it can be successful in the classroom. Along with the four PSAC Tournament appearances and nine victories over nationally-ranked foes, the team has earned the country’s top GPA six times in Swiney’s tenure.
“It shows that we really value both the academic and athletic success,” Swiney said. “We as coaches really try to support them to prioritize in that way and I think they support each other, as well, to be successful in the classroom. It shows they’re true student-athletes, which we’re all about in division two.”
The team is just happy to be able to get a shot at an actual opponent after their preseason and work towards its goal of reaching the playoffs.
“We’re excited for the challenge of continuing to maintain a competitive program within a really tough league,” Swiney said.