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UConn field hockey opens NCAA Tournament play against Fairfield

The quest for the Huskies’ sixth national championship begins Friday.

Pato Jerzak

NCAA Tournament action is nothing new to head Coach Nancy Stevens and the UConn Field Hockey program. This is their 18th straight NCAA tournament, and the program, which already owns five national championships, is primed to compete for one more.

The Huskies (18-3) are fresh off their eighth-consecutive Big East Conference Tournament Championship and will open tournament play on Friday, Nov. 15, against in-state foe Fairfield. UConn earned the national No. 2 overall seed, granting them rights to host both first and second-round games in Storrs. It is their 17th time hosting.

The Huskies possess all there is to know about competing in the postseason given their storied past.

“I think experience plays a bigger factor in postseason games.” head coach Nancy Stevens said. “The intensity is turned up and you are playing for your season.”

The Huskies have not faced a Nutmeg State opponent in the postseason in over a decade. They last played Fairfield in 2014 when UConn hosted the Stags and walked away with a 4-0 victory.

However, the Stags (19-2) are hot. Winners of 12 games in a row, they last lost back in September, a 6-4 defeat to Northeastern at home. They earned the chance to take on the Huskies by knocking off American University in an NCAA Tournament play-in game on Wednesday, 3-1. Prior to that, they won the Northeast Conference Championship 2-1 over Rider last Sunday.

Fairfield received goals against American from junior forward Danielle Profita, sophomore midfielder MacKenzie Boyle and junior midfielder Emma Matlach. Profita and Matlach will be ones to watch against the Huskies.

Profita leads the Stags in points with 25, on eight goals and nine assists. Matlach, who has only started two games and came on as a substitute against American, leads the team in goals with 9. Luzi Persiehl, a sophomore defender, is their leading distributor with 11 assists and six goals for 23 points. Persiehl was also the Northeast Conference Player of the Year.

Matlach and Persiehl are both German, but the Huskies counter with their own veteran Deutsch stars that they hope will carry the day. Senior forward Svea Boker, the Big East’s Offensive Player of the Year and Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player, has 20 goals, 13 assists, and 53 points this season. She is buttressed by senior defender and co-captain Antonia Tiedtke, who leads the team in assists with 16.

Boker’s .95 goals per game are No. 5 nationally while Tiedtke’s .76 assists per game are tied for No. 3. Both were regular starters for the Huskies’ last national championship squad in 2017.

“In field hockey we don’t have the benefit of timeouts,” Steven said. “So you have to rely on your players to make adjustments and be able to adapt. I trust that our players will be able to communicate during adversity and the fact that we’ve been in this position before.”

The Huskies are also top ten nationally in scoring average (third at 3.32), and scoring margin (second at 2.62). Fairfield and its players do not rank top-ten nationally in any category.

Both teams are strong in goal. UConn sends out redshirt sophomore Cheyenne Sprecher, the Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Sprecher is ranked first nationally in goals allowed average at .710 and save percentage at .854. She has let in just 15 goals all year.

Fairfield’s Zoe Rosen, a junior, was an All-Northeast Conference selection and her goals allowed average (13th, 1.15) save percentage (14th, .760) rank well nationally. She is bolstered by having junior defender Kelly Buckley in front of her, the Northeast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

“Fairfield is having an unbelievable year. We are going to treat them like every opponent we have played this season and try and play our game,” Stevens said.

The winner of UConn-Fairfield will face either Syracuse or Princeton, who are scheduled to face-off at 2:30 p.m. Not that Stevens is concerned.

“I’m not thinking at all about a possible rematch right now. We have a very tough Fairfield team on Friday and if we are fortunate enough to get past them we know that both those teams will present a great challenge,” she said.

The Orange came down to Storrs this year and stole a 1-0 shootout victory on Oct. 20. UConn outshot Syracuse 24-8 on the game, including 11-2 in the second half, and 11-3 in overtime. The Huskies also led in penalty corners 13-1. Still, the game made it to strokes where the Orange scored twice, and Syracuse goalie Sarah Sinck kept the Huskies out of the net all four tries.

UConn and Syracuse share one mutual opponent, Stanford. The Huskies beat the Cardinal 3-2 in Palo Alto in their second game of the season. Syracuse also faced Stanford in California, but it was part of an invitational hosted by Cal, and the Orange fell 3-2.

Syracuse will be powered first and foremost by Charlotte de Vries, a freshman forward whose 15 goals are 41.6 percent of the teams total of 36. She was league-leader in the ACC in game-winning goals with six, third in points with 31 and top three in both shots and shots on goal.

She is buoyed by sophomore midfielder SJ Quigley (three goals, five assists) and a trio of players with nine points on the year in Sarah Luby, Laura Graziosi, and Claire Cooke.

In net, Sinck shutout UConn earlier this fall but has struggled relatively speaking. Her goals-against average of 1.797 was second to last in the ACC, and her save percentage (.726) was fourth out of seven. That may be because she was under a deluge of shots, as her total number of saves (69) and saves per game (3.83) were best in the conference.

De Vries and junior midfield Carolin Hoffmann were their two All-Conference players.

Princeton has been the class of the Ivy League for several years now, having won three consecutive championships. Carla Tagliente’s squad has also been to two of the last three Final Fours. Last year, Princeton came to Storrs and upset then-No. 3 ranked UConn 5-2. This year, it was the Huskies trekking to No. 6 Princeton and taking them down 2-1 in overtime.

UConn has played Princeton three times since Tagliente took over and leads the series 2-1.

The Tigers 3.16 goals per game is No. 4 in the country, just behind UConn at 3.32. Junior striker Clara Roth led the team and the conference with 14 goals. Sammy Popper, Ali McCarthy, and Hannah Davey were No.’s 4, 5, and 6 in the conference with 10, 10, and nine goals apiece in supporting Roth. Junior Julianna Tornetta led the conference in assists (11) and assists per game (.65) in creating their potent attack.

In net, Grace Baylis has three shutouts, but she was last in saves (41) and saves per game (2.41) with a light workload created by superior play in front of her. She sports a goals-allowed average of 1.85 and save percentage of .603.

Outside of each other, the team shared common foes in Rutgers, Harvard, Maryland, Boston University, and eventually, Syracuse. Both defeated Harvard and BU but lost to Maryland. The Tigers took a loss to Rutgers 2-1. UConn defeated the Scarlet Knights 2-0 on Sept, 6.

The regional championship will be played on Sunday, Nov. 17, at a time to be announced. The winner of the regional will travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina for the 2019 Final Four