After taste of NCAA tournament, field hockey is back to defend A-10 title

Junior midfielder Lonica McKinney looks to shoot during the Atlantic 10 tournament final. Photo by Jay Stonefield

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

The sting of losing last season’s NCAA tournament game in double overtime is still fresh for practically the entire field hockey roster. The loss to Bucknell was just under four months ago. 

“I think everyone is so fresh in their minds about how that loss felt,” sophomore midfielder Bridget McCormick said. 

The Rams, who outshot the Bison by 10 shots in the game, lost on a goal with less than 15 seconds remaining in the overtime period.

The overtime loss has provided added motivation for the team this season, following a undefeated run to the Atlantic 10 crown before being bounced early in the national tournament.

“Once you get a taste of what you want, you want to experience that again,” said head coach Stacey Bean. “You just want to keep building and getting better.” 

Unlike a normal cycle of seasons, where there’s almost a year in between seasons, this fall is different. The Rams had their fall 2020 season moved to the spring 2021 due to delays presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the team faces a quick turnaround for the new campaign.

“I’m actually very excited that we have a second opportunity right away to get there and try to get the championship again,” senior defender Janne Wetzel said. “I think one of the biggest hurdles right now for the team is just to understand that we don’t have these four months to grow as a team and prepare ourselves for the season again.”

Before last season, the team had a four-month preseason during the fall to train and bond on and off the field. That time served to be beneficial for the program as the team had its best season to date, winning its first A-10 title. 

“We’ve had so long to work together and trust each other and understand how one another place, which is definitely important,” junior forward Lonica McKinney said. “I think that having last year the way it was will definitely help with that.”

This season’s team is almost the same squad that made history in the spring as the black and gold returns 10 of its 11 starters, losing midfielder Emily van Hijfte.

With very little turnover on the roster, the team can quickly build on last season.

“The more kids you can bring back at a high level the better, because you don’t necessarily have to regress too much to start to build again,” Bean said.

This season, the Rams will a team to watch and not to be underestimated — similar to when they were picked No. 4 in the preseason in the spring. Now they’re No. 1 in this season’s A-10 preseason poll that was released on Monday. 

“There’s definitely a lot of added pressure this year on knowing teams are gunning for us,” McCormick said. “Obviously that’s another huge motivator for people but I think we’re gonna be ready.”

McCormick was the A-10 Rookie of the Year last season, scoring five goals on 15 shots. 

The Haddonfield, New Jersey, native was one of five Rams named to the A-10 Preseason All-Conference team, alongside senior back Litiana Field, graduate student midfielder Maite Sturm, senior goalkeeper Sasha Elliott and Wetzel.

“We need to go in a different headspace this year, because we definitely have a target on our back this year because everyone obviously wants to beat us now,” Wetzel said. “So I think just still being humble — go humble into games — but still be confident.”

Even though the Rams only lost one player from last spring, they’ve added four freshmen to the roster, including Carolina Mujica-Robles. 

Mujica-Robles isn’t the typical freshman field hockey player. She played the last two years in her home country, Chile, before her stop at VCU. At 20 years old, Bean said Mujica-Robles will have an immediate impact on the team.

“She’s physically a little bit more mature than your typical incoming student athletes,” Bean said. “She’s going to have that maturity and that ability to have that impact because of it and because of her playing experience.”

Mujica-Robles is currently playing for Chile in the junior Pan American Games and will be arriving to VCU in early September.

Bean said she won’t have any hesitation playing Mujica-Robles when she joins the team in a couple weeks because of her “high hockey IQ.” Bean added that she’ll be able to slide into the VCU system fairly quickly as well. 

During this season’s two-week preseason training, Bean said the team has focused on executing better on offensive chances. 

“Where we’re getting a lot of outcomes and the other team’s defensive circles, we’re getting, you know, some corners or getting some shots,” Bean said. “Finishing on some of those at a little bit higher rate is definitely something we’ll look to, we always look to improve on our possession game, in the attacking play.”

McCormick said the team’s mantra from last season still holds true this fall: “We didn’t come this far to come this to come this far.”

Field hockey opens the season against American University on Friday at 3 p.m. at Cary Street Field.

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