Preview: Field Hockey Looks to Continue Growth with Playoff Trip

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This summer the Muhlenberg field hockey team spent more than a week touring the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium, taking in the sights and sounds while testing its mettle against top-notch international competition. For many of the players, it was their first time in Europe.

Beginning with Friday’s season opener at Scranton, the Mules will embark on another long journey. Much like that trip to Europe, they hope its destination is a place they’ve never seen.

“We just missed the playoffs last year, so it was really disappointing,” senior Ashley DeAngelis said. “This year we absolutely see ourselves in the playoffs and in the top five [in the Centennial Conference]. That’s definitely one of our biggest goals.”

Ashley DeAngelis
DeAngelis recorded 13 defensive saves a year ago, breaking the school record held for just one year by her sister Brittany. That helped the Mules to allow the fewest goals in a season since 2004.
Though Muhlenberg hasn’t made the conference playoffs since 2007, more recent history indicates the program is on the upswing. The Mules won only two games all season in 2010, but increased that total to five the following year and nearly doubled it again with last season’s 9-7 campaign. With 14 letterwinners – and nine starters – back from a squad that knocked off eventual national runner-up Montclair State and cracked the Division III national poll for the first time since 2003, there’s reason to believe the trend will continue.

“What’s great about our team is we only graduated three seniors, so we were a young team and still did well,” DeAngelis said. “And this year we brought in some great freshmen who are going to be a great asset, so we’re all really excited.”

DeAngelis is one of three veteran starters returning from a stingy back line that surrendered just 22 goals a year ago. Along with juniors Ray Gallagher and Heather Porrini, both of whom started every game last season, and sophomore Gabrielle Smith, who should see more time, DeAngelis and the Mules look to be strong in the back once again.

Kayleigh Thies
Thies led Muhlenberg with 5 goals and 6 assists a year ago. Thies is just the second Mule to record double digits in both goals and assists after first two seasons.

Muhlenberg’s biggest loss was at goalie, where junior Sierra Lanker takes over for four-year starter Kristen Dornenberg between the pipes. Lenker has eight career games under her belt and appears primed to fill the big shoes left behind.

“We’re all really confident with her,” DeAngelis said of the Mules’ new netminder. “She’s seen playing time since she was a freshman, so she has great experience, and it’s great that she had Kristen as a role model when she was younger. It really taught her a lot, and she learned a lot from her. Now I think she’s ready to take on the full responsibility of being the starter.”

The offense, meanwhile, looks to be in good shape. The Mules bring back 97 percent of their scoring from last year’s squad, including All-CC junior forward Kayleigh Thies (5 goals, 6 assists), junior forward Samantha Swire (5 goals, 3 assists) and senior forward Dayna Hovern (5 goals, 2 assists). Forwards Erin Cummings (4 goals), Lauren Jordan (3 goals), Christine Germaske (3 goals) and Meghan Gill (1 goal) are also hoping to build on solid campaigns.

Senior All-CC performer Mariah Alston (1 goal, 3 assists) is back to lead the midfield, with junior Allie Califano and sophomores Bridget McNally and Molly Sanford set to assume larger roles. And don’t forget that jaunt through Europe, which is already paying dividends in the increased camaraderie, communication and knowledge of the game the Mules brought with them when they returned stateside.

“Holland is No. 1 in the world for field hockey, so they’re a huge role model for the field hockey world,” said DeAngelis. “Their type of play is the type you won’t see over here, so playing them was just an awesome experience. I think we learned a lot from them, and some of the things we learned from them we’ve already incorporated in our play.”

Add six promising freshmen to the mix, and the Mules are confident a return to the playoffs is the next step in their transformation.

“I think our expectations are to make it to playoffs,” said DeAngelis. “We’re all just really excited. ”