Field hockey seeks chance for improvement amid atypical schedule

Senior forward Emily Van Hijfte battles for the ball during the 2019 season. Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

Senior forward Emily Van Hijfte was waiting for game day for more than a year, training with her teammates. After more than 450 days on Feb. 14, the wait was finally over, and field hockey beat Old Dominion 3-2. 

“It was just super exciting to get back on the field,” Van Hijfte said. “It makes all of the practices and stuff worth it because that is what we’re here for — to play games and compete for VCU.”

The team last played on Nov. 3, 2019, beating Maine 2-1. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the season, which is normally played in the fall, to move to the spring. 

The first game back was a strong start for field hockey, head coach Stacey Bean said. 

“I think that was an important measuring stick, not so much for me, but for the team,” Bean said. “They could kind of get a grasp of it and start to address some things.”

The black and gold beat Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia, after falling behind by one goal in the first 27 minutes. VCU answered with back-to-back goals from Van Hijfte and freshman back Ashlyn Hughes. Senior midfielder Maite Sturm scored the game-winning goal in the 69th minute. 

“It was rough in the start, especially,” Van Hijfte said. “We were struggling a little bit with finding each other on the field.”

The Rams’ next game is almost a month after the season opener — they will host Richmond on March 13 to open Atlantic 10 conference play.

“It wasn’t by design, but we’re looking at it as a positive for us,” Bean said. “Working through some things and address some things that we definitely need to fix up and some things that we can build upon that we did very well.”

The team was supposed to play American as well as William and Mary in both home and away matchups, but all four games were canceled prior to the season, creating the nearly monthlong gap between gameplay. 

The black and gold’s matchups against American were canceled due to the Patriot League not allowing their teams to play nonconference games this season. William and Mary canceled its games with the Rams after the university didn’t allow some of its teams to play nonconference games due to “budgetary” challenges, Bean said.

“You gotta roll with it. It’s the world we’re living in right now,” Bean said. “Our kids are taking it pretty much as a positive, and we’re happy that we’re able to get this game in so early so we do have that time to reassess and build and move on from there.”

The roster includes a young bunch this season with only three seniors. Van Hijfte said the break allows for the team to improve certain skills without the pressure of another game looming around the corner. 

“It’s good for us to kind of re-evaluate what we need to work on,” Van Hijfte said. “It gives us enough time to really go over those things in practice. Our coach likes to do small, small drills that then you end up seeing in the big play.”

Bean said the Old Dominion game provided an opportunity for the team to study their game film footage in order to work on their skills. She also said the game was the first time the team was able to work on spacing between players, both on offense and defense. 

When the Rams return to the field for A-10 play, they will play the same three opponents — Richmond, Saint Louis and Davidson — twice, once home and once away. It’s not a normal schedule, but Bean said it will serve as an opportunity for improvement. 

“If you win the first game, then awesome, and you can still get better,” Bean said. “Then, it’s what can you improve on, what can get better.”

The Rams will host Richmond on March 13 at Cary Street Field at 1 p.m.

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