Skidmore Field Hockey Reaches High
Simply put, the bar has been set at a high level for the Skidmore College field hockey team. The program's success over the last 11 years includes nine NCAA appearances, two final four berths and three visits each to the elite eight and round of 16.
Most recently, the Thoroughbreds two years ago advanced to the NCAA Final Four. Last season, Skidmore posted an 18-2 record that included a fourth straight Liberty League title and a trip to the Elite Eight.
That success has given Skidmore a little national recognition. Approaching Friday's 4:30 p.m. season opener with visiting Castleton State, the Thoroughbreds are ranked eighth in the first NFHCA Poll.
"We certainly have a tradition of winning and certain expectations," said 12th-year coach Beth Hallenbeck. "We want to be playing at a national level, but we know it just doesn't come [easily because] we have a competitive league and our route to the NCAA is through the Liberty League.
"You first have to get yourself in a position to compete in the Liberty League championship, then hopefully win it and get that chance to compete at the national level. We know that's a process."
Helping the Thoroughbreds in that process is a group of returning players, led by leading scorer from last year, Kelly Blackhurst (North River, NY). The junior forward totaled 25 goals to go with 16 assists.
"Kelly was regional and Liberty League player of the year and an All-America, so she's the go to player," Hallenbeck said. "She was the high scorer, so it's nice to have her returning and build an offense around her."
In goal, Skidmore has sophomore Haley McDougall (Saratoga Springs), who earned a spot on the 2011 all-region team.
Also back are senior defender Hilary Cranston (Mason, NH) and senior forward Ceilidh MacNeill (Framingham, MA), who collected 11 goals and five assists last year. Junior Annie Weis (Belmont, MA) is a returning defender.
"We have some solid players in midfield as well, so I think it's nice to have people in place in every line," Hallenbeck said. "I think we have a good returning crew and some promising freshmen entering the picture."
Once the Thoroughbreds start playing for real against Castleton, Hallenbeck believes a quick offense supported by a solid defense will be key factors.
"Our turf is the best surface for field hockey, so we like to play a fast-paced offense," she said. "But that just means we have to be able to recover and play defense when we need to.
"I think our general philosophy is everyone is a skill player on the field.
"Defenders can handle the ball and offensive players can play defense. It's important to have the entire skill set."
As for the season itself, Hallenbeck thinks Skidmore will have its hands full if it's to earn a fifth straight Liberty League crown. She listed William Smith, RPI and St. Lawrence among the challengers. With a new coach, Hallenbeck thought Union College was a question mark entering the season.
"I think recently there's more parity in the league," she said. "There are more teams that are skilled and dangerous, so I think the gap is closing. It's going to be a challenging deal."
Outside the Liberty league, Hallenbeck thinks the challenge starts right with the opener against Castleton State, followed by Sunday's noon contest with visiting Babson.
"They've improved greatly in the past few years," she said of Castleton. "It's a good place for us to start and to know where we're at. Babson is traditionally a good game for us, so those two will be challenging and yet get us some confidence as well."
Don Willman is a seasoned sports writer, with more than 15 years of experience as an editor and reporter. He is the Sports Editor for Saratoga Wire
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