Friday, November 7, 2008

UAlbany Field Hockey Head Coach Sykes Has Great Danes Well Prepared For America East Conference Championship Tournament

University at Albany head field hockey coach Phil Sykes will find out this weekend if his new strategy worked.

After just missing out on an at-large berth into the NCAA tourn­ament last year, Sykes decided to improve his strength of schedule dramatically.

The tough schedule hurt the Great Danes’ overall record

(10-9), but Sykes hopes it prepared his team for the America East Conference tournament.

UAlbany, which won the reg­ular-season title outright for the first time, is the top seed and host for the four-team event. The Great Danes (4-1 in the conference) take on fourth-seeded Boston University (3-2, 10-9) today at 1 p.m., followed by third-seeded Maine (3-2, 6-9) and second-seeded New Hampshire (3-2, 8-10) at 4 p.m. Sunday’s championship game will be played at 1 p.m. The winner receives an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

“I would say there is a little bit more pressure on us this year, but we’ve been in the conference tournament for the last four years, and the girls are comfortable. It’s not a new, shocking thing for them any more,” said Sykes. “Hosting this is a very nice thing. Sure, we have high expectations on us, but we have the comfort of being on our own field. We have familiarity with the tournament, and we have most of our same group back.”

The Great Danes are ranked 22nd in the nation.

“We’ve been ranked as high as 18th early in the season, but with our record being only 10-9, we dropped a little lately. I still think playing a tough schedule will help us in the long run,” he said. “It’s interesting, because last year, we lost in the America East Conference finals. I thought we had a chance of getting an at-large bid, along with teams like Louisville and Duke. But both Louisville and our team didn’t get in. I think if our strength of schedule was tougher, we might have gotten in. So this year, we played 12 top-25 teams. Maybe it was a little too much, but we’ll see.”

Senior midfielder Michele Pol­izois is the top scorer for the Great Danes with 13 goals, six assists and 32 points. MIchelle Simpson, a sen­ior midfielder from Midlesbrough, England, is next with nine goals and 12 assists for 30 points.

“We were able to get Michelle Simpson an extra year of eligibility. We worked seven months to get it, and it was an historic case,” Sykes said. “She gives us five experienced seniors, and I think that’s the major difference between this year’s team and last year’s team.”

Other top players include junior forward Nicole Savage (seven goals, two assists for 16 points) and junior defender Jess Lindsey (3-12-18).

Ashley Ross is the team’s prim­ary goalkeeper. She has a 2.13 goals-against-average with a .746 save percentage and four shutouts.

Sykes thinks this group has enough offense and defense to reach the next level.

“In our last three conference games, we played very well, particularly against BU,” he said. “BU graduated nine seniors, all starters, from last year’s team, but they always seem to recruit good players. They just don’t have the experience that we do this season. We’ll just have to wait and see how it works out.”

By Bob Weiner (Contact)
Gazette Reporter

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