BRIDGEWATER, Va. – With the 2012 season just over the horizon, head coach Allyson Kenyon and the Bridgewater Eagles field hockey team are poised to make a move this coming season in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) race.
Kenyon and the Eagles graduated just two players from a team that finished the 2011 season with a 9-8 overall record and earned a berth in the ODAC quarterfinals.
This season, the Eagles return a number of key contributors at each position and will call upon a solid freshman class as they look to turn in another winning season and move solidly into the top four in the conference.
After averaging over two goals per game a season ago, the Eagles return their entire front-line unit to the fold this season.
Senior Kelly Ryan leads the group and is a hybrid player that is utilized at the forward post and in the midfield of the Eagles' offensive system. Ryan was third on the team in scoring last season, netting seven goals along the way.
"Kelly returns to lead the attack and is just a workhorse for us and we'll look to her to lead the squad this year up front," said Kenyon. "Betsy, Jen and Galen each were nicked up during preseason, which made things hard at times, but they're excited to be back and they all worked hard in a number of ways and came back as improved players."
Kenyon also added quality depth to the 2012 roster by bringing in five forwards at an already loaded position. Alenka Ferrufino, Jenna Devilbiss, Allison Kirk, Rachael Loy and Taylor Prillaman are each expected to push for significant playing time as the season unfolds.
"Rachael comes from an excellent program at Greenwood High School in Pennsylvania and she's a great finisher who is ready to make an impact right now at this level. Taylor is a complete player, her stick skills are outstanding and she'll be a great player for us. Alenka walked on and has blown us away. She's a tireless worker and we expect some great things from her," said Kenyon about her newcomers at the position.
The Eagles enter a new season loaded in the midfield, with a talented batch of returners and a quality freshman class poised to make an impact in the middle of the offense.
Junior Colleen Dickson returns to the fold on the left side of the midfield after a solid sophomore season. Dickson played in all 17 games for the Eagles a season ago and dished out one assist along the way. Fellow junior Megan Gould also returns to the fold at the midfield position after leading the team in scoring with eight goals a year ago.
"Colleen and Megan have been key on the offensive side but we're going to use them as two-way players this year. We have such quality depth in this year's class that we are moving some people around from last year to put people in the best position to be successful," said Kenyon.
Sophomore Caroline Augsburger joins the team this season after spending the 2011 campaign as a member of the women's soccer program. Augsburger is expected to be a key contributor this season from her center midfield post.
"It's great for us to have Caroline on the team this year. After a year away from the game, she looks like she hasn't missed a beat. She's stepped in and has meshed with the returners and we'll look for her to be the lead center mid," commented Kenyon.
The Eagles could also utilize Joslyn, Loy, Prillaman and Tompkins in the midfield as the season rolls on.
A new year will see an effectively brand new defensive unit for the Eagles after the group turned in a stellar 2011 season.
Senior Joan Burleson returns to the backfield after being utilized as a midfielder a year ago. Burleson was a second team All-ODAC performer last season and returns to the same position she held down as a freshman and sophomore.
"We're sliding Joan back to defense this season so we have a senior leader back there, who has a magnetic stick and brings some stability to a brand new defensive group," said Kenyon.
Junior Kathleen Nuckols and sophomore Kaitlyn Harris return to the mix for the Eagles after missing a large part of the 2011 season. Nuckols competed in just 10 games a year ago, tallying just one shot.
"It's great to have Katie back this year as well, she missed a big portion of last year, but I think she learned a lot from watching from the sidelines and that's also made her hungry to get back on the field," commented Kenyon.
Losing an All-ODAC caliber goalkeeper provides certain challenges for the Eagles with the graduation of 2010 All-ODAC performer Taylor Waddell. Waddell played all but 120 minutes a season ago and turned in a stellar 1.93 GAA in the cage.
Junior Jessica Balsano returns after seeing limited action a year ago as a reserve behind Waddell and allowed two goals on eight shots in just over 120 minutes of action.
"Jess' experience was limited because Taylor was such an outstanding keeper, but she's ready for the challenge. She's worked hard and has shown significant improvement from where she was at the beginning of preseason," commented Kenyon on her lone returner at the position.
During the offseason, Kenyon hired Lynchburg College graduate and 2011 All-South Region selection Tiffany Frye to work with Balsano and newcomer Jordan Monck.
"Jordan's pretty new to the position, but she's catching on quickly, learning the angles and working with Coach Frye to learn the basics. She's great at using her athleticism and vision to make plays on the ball and has been a nice addition to the position," said Kenyon.
Bridgewater's schedule for the 2012 season is road-heavy with 12 of the squad's 17 games being played away from the friendly confines of Mapp Field. The Eagles open the season on a seven-game road trip, before opening the home and ODAC slate on September 22 against Virginia Wesleyan.
Last season, the Eagles were outstanding on the road, winning key contests at Washington and Lee, St. Mary's (Md.), Roanoke and Randolph-Macon.
"Our schedule is very travel heavy this year. We picked up a few neutral site games, but last year we were a great road team, and with so many returners on the team this year, hopefully that will remain and we'll continue to be a solid road team," said Kenyon.
After posting nine or more wins for the fourth straight season, the Eagles are poised to make a move in the always top-loaded conference chase. Lynchburg was picked as the odds-on favorite to repeat as conference champions, but remainder of the league could be wide open as the season progress.
"We're expecting to make some moves this year in the league. Our ultimate goal is to have an opening round bye and be playing in the semifinals, but we have to do some work to get to that point. We will be seeing some new teams this year, and that will be a challenge, but we're prepared for the season and what's in front of us," said Kenyon.
Bridgewater opens the 2012 season on Saturday at Lynchburg College when it tangles with DePauw. Start time is set for 1 p.m.