MOUNT PLEASANT – With strong veteran leadership at nearly every position on the field and an infusion of talented young players, the Central Michigan field hockey team is poised to make a run for a Mid-American Conference Championship in 2012.
Five seniors and seven juniors return from a last season's team that went 9-11 overall and 5-5 in the conference regular season, good for second. The Chippewas return nine starters from the team in 2011 that made it to the MAC Tournament semifinals.
“We’ve got a veteran team coming back,” head coach Cristy Freese said. “Those players have good experience, not just in terms of talent but also the fact they’ve played together. That will be very important for us this season.
The combination of talented seniors and juniors who have developed in the CMU system for two or three years and impactful sophomores and freshmen who will make a difference immediately has Freese confident that a conference title is well within the grasp of the squad.
“It’s not about one player, it’s about how we play as a team,” Freese said. “For our juniors and seniors this isn’t their first go-around as starters, and I think that is key. We took our lumps a few years ago, but we hope that will translate into real experience and understanding of what it takes to win.”
The Chippewas begin their quest for their first regular-season title since 2002, and their first tournament crown since 2005, Saturday against Radford at the Robert Morris Tournament in Moon Township, Pa.
Previewing the Offense
The Chippewas return a majority of an offense that posted the second highest scoring average in the MAC at 2.27 per game in 2011. Not returning will be midfielder Paulina Lee, who led the team with 10 assists in her final season of eligibility in 2011.
Sophomore forward Cayleigh Immelman, the 2011 MAC Freshman of the Year, and senior midfielder Erin Dye, who earned MAC All-Tournament and All-MAC second team honors in 2011, lead a talented corps of offensive players who have the potential to put a lot of points on the board every time they take the field.
Immelman, who was also named to the All-MAC First Team, scored a team-leading 12 goals, which was fourth-best in the conference, and added nine assists for a team-leading points total of 33, also fourth in the conference.
Dye netted 10 goals and seven assists for a career-best 27 points. She scored two goals in a game on two different occasions in 2011, including against Missouri State in the MAC tournament quarterfinals. With 22 career goals and 56 career points, Dye is just six goals away from joining the CMU all-time top ten and 13 points from the all-time points list.
Sophomore Simone Lazar, a 2011 All-MAC First Team selection, is another of the talented young players who now have the benefit of a full CMU season under their belts. She scored two goals in 2011 and assisted on three more, and all four of her shots were on goal. She will be one of the players who will help to fill the opening on the offense left by Lee.
Junior forward/midfielder Bailey McKeon will play a significant role in the goal scoring proficiency of the Chippewas in 2012, having scored a career-high five last season and assisting on six others. She recorded three goals in one game against Missouri State.
Previewing the Defense
Like the offense, the 2011 CMU team defense ranked second in the conference in a number of categories, including goals against average (1.82 per game) and shutouts (3). Back Brooke Sihota, who was a MAC All-Tournament team selection, was the lone senior on the defense in 2011. With senior Anastasia Netto in goal, and seniors Emily Girasole and Brittany Burga and junior Skylar VanNatta providing veteran leadership for a relatively young defensive backfield, the Chippewas hope to maintain and improve upon the defensive performance from 2011.
Netto was a second-team All-MAC selection in 2011 after posting two shutouts and a .718 save percentage, both of which were second-best in the conference. Her 2011 campaign saw her allow fewer goals than in 2010 (37 to 50), save more shots (.718 save percentage to .697), and post the first two shutouts of her career, and she will look to continue to improve in 2012.
Girasole enters her third season as the starting sweeper for the Chippewas. She has started 27 of her last 36 appearances, and has been instrumental in orchestrating the defensive success of the Chippewas. Her senior veteran presence will be crucial to the continued improvement of the defense, which will play a significant role in the Chippewas' championship aspirations. In addition to her defense, she also contributed a goal and an assist in 2011.
Burga will look to regain her form from 2010, when she started 13 of 18 games and scored her lone career goal. She was limited to one start in 13 matches in 2011 and one shot, which was on goal.
VanNatta likewise provides veteran leadership and skill in the defensive backfield. She started 35 of her 39 contests since arriving on campus in 2010, and played the entire game in 24 of those.
Tough Schedule Will Test Chippewas Early and Often
The Chippewas face an impressive list of opponents in 2012, headlined by six ranked teams – two of which will square off against the Chippewas in the confines of the CMU Field Hockey Complex.
In the Penn Monto/National Field Hockey Coaches Association preseason poll released Monday appear CMU opponents Michigan (No. 10), Stanford (11), Iowa (12), Northwestern (20), Maine (22) and Louisville (23). American (25) also looms as a potential ranked opponent at the Michigan State University Invitational.
The contests against Michigan and Iowa will be contested in Mount Pleasant. Stanford, Maine, Louisville and potentially American will be contested at neutral field locations, and the Chippewas will travel to Evanston, Ill., to play Northwestern.
Also among the eight neutral field games on the Chippewas schedule are matches against Radford, Pacific and Indiana.
For MAC competition, the Chippewas will only face each opponent once, a change from the previous practice of playing each team twice.
Three of its five conference games will played at CMU, including matches against defending MAC regular season and tournament champions Ohio, 2011 MAC tournament runner-up Miami, and Kent State, which finished the MAC regular season fourth.
Full schedule details, including dates and times, can be found on the schedule/results page.