Field Hockey Sets Sights on NESCAC Title

Contact: Ben Badua

Photo Gallery * Preseason Video

knerr1slider.jpgSEASON OUTLOOK
Posting an 11-5 overall record and 6-4 mark against conference opponents, the 2012 Jeffs locked up a seventh-straight NESCAC Championship berth as the No. 5 seed, before falling to top-seeded Middlebury in the league semifinals.

But a closer look reveals just how competitive Amherst was last season in one of the nation’s premier field hockey conferences. All five of the team’s losses came against ranked opponents. Four of the five games were decided by a single goal, each one in overtime. With a solid core of veterans back in the fold, the Jeffs should once again be in the hunt with hopes of making a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

“We have a lot of confidence in the group,” said head coach Carol Knerr, who enters her 13th season on the Amherst sidelines. “There are a lot of players with great experience and we have great leadership. We were competitive in all of our games last year and know we have a chance to win every time out. The expectations are high, but the goal is simple: take it one day at a time.”

Gone is the program’s most prolific scorer in All-American Katie McMahon ’12, but the Jeffs do return a wealth of talent on an offensive unit that last season ranked among the NESCAC elite in goals per game (3.25).

A second-team all-conference honoree and All-Region selection, Krista Zsitvay ’14 enjoyed another stellar season in Purple & White. Tallying 19 goals and nine assists over her first two seasons, the tri-captain started all 16 contests in 2012, finishing with 12 goals and four assists.  

“Krista is a key impact player,” said Knerr. “Her skills are so fluid and smooth. She has speed, is composed in front of the net, but is also smart defensively and can help in our press.”

Joining Zsitvay up front is junior Madeline Tank. Tallying four goals and four assists as a first-year, the forward came into her own last season, erupting for 12 markers in 16 appearances. A solid passer that displays good hands in front of goal, Tank should once again factor into the team’s offensive scheme, while keeping opposing defenses on their heels.

Also hoping to make an impact are Katie Paolano ’16 and Annika Nyren ’16, along with first-years Sara Culhane, Emily Gibson and Taylor Hallowell.

A staple in the Amherst midfield, tri-captain Alex Philie ’14 returns for her senior season, alongside juniors Ellie Andersen and Kerry Fusco. A second-team All-NESCAC performer and third-team All-American in 2012, Philie turned in another stellar season with six goals and five assists. An impact player since her arrival, the center mid had 16 points (6 G, 4 A) as a first-year before amassing 17 points (5 G, 7 A) in 2011.

Showing good speed, Andersen has the versatility to also play up front, having collected eight goals and five assists in her first two seasons. Seeing significant time since her rookie year, Fusco appeared in 15 games in 2011, before starting all 16 contests last season, chipping in two goals and two assists.

Nygren could also see time in the middle of the field, while Molly Connolly ’17 and Mary Margaret Stoll ’17 bring added depth.

“Our midfielders are our work horses,” said Knerr. “They play an important defensive role, while helping with our transition game. They know what they need to do to be successful and I expect them to play with more confidence as they use their experience to their advantage.”

Entering last season, Amherst’s backline posed the biggest questions thanks to the graduation of all three starters from 2011. Thrust into the position, tri-captain Sarah Canning ’14, Annie Turnbull ’16 and Emily Burress ’15 had little time to get acclimated, but by season’s end the trio developed into a formidable unit that allowed just two goals over the team’s final five regular season games, posting three shutouts.

“As a group they developed tremendously over the course of last season,” Knerr said. “They had to step into new roles, but you could see the improvement game-by-game. Back with that experience, we hope to see them continue to improve.”

Starting all 16 contests a year ago, Canning, Turnbull and Burress bring some much needed stability to the back. Returners Camile Youngblood ’15, Catie Downey ’16 and Abigail Rose ’16 bring additional depth along with first-year Sydney Watts.

Anchoring the Jeffs’ defensive efforts is junior goalkeeper Rachel Tannenbaum. A starter since her arrival, the Berwyn, Pa. native led the nation in save percentage (.901) as a rookie, before earning All-Region and first-team All-NESCAC accolades last season. Logging 1123:51 minutes in net, she posted a 1.25 GAA with a .826 save percentage and four shutouts. Backing up the Amherst netminder is first-year Emily Horwitz. A standout player from Wilmington, Del., Horwitz should push Tannenbaum this season, while solidifying the Jeffs’  solid goalkeeping unit.

Ranked 16th in the NFHCA Preseason poll, Amherst opens the 2013 season on Gooding Field against No. 3 Middlebury on Sept. 7. Following a trip to Mount Holyoke on Sept. 10, the Jeffs return home to face No. 4 Bowdoin (9/14). The annual grudge match with archrival Williams is set for Sept. 21, with games against Springfield, No. 1 Tufts and Bates on the docket at the end of the month.

The Purple & White host Keene State on Oct. 3 before hitting the road for a pair of games against league rivals Hamilton and Colby. After returning home for tilts with Wesleyan and Conn. College, Amherst closes out the regular season at Smith (10/24) and Trinity (10/30) with the NESCAC playoffs slated to begin on Nov. 2.