LANCASTER, Pa. - The 2011 edition of the Franklin & Marshall field hockey team features a combination of an experienced core of returning starters and a large group of newcomers looking to make an immediate impact. The task of turning that combination into a success falls on the shoulders of fourth-year head coach Melissa Mariano.
Mariano and the Diplomats put together a solid campaign in 2010 with a 10-7 (5-5 CC) record and were ranked at one point as high as 16th in the nation by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA), but were left to wonder what could have been as four of their seven losses were by just one goal.
Despite jumping out of the gates with a 5-0 start and closing the year on a four-game winning streak, the Diplomats were unable to overcome a rough 1-7 stretch through the middle of the season and narrowly missed out on the Centennial Conference playoffs.
Mariano has been emphasizing the importance of shot selection for F&M heading into the season as the Diplomats outshot their opponents in the majority of their contests a season ago, but failed to produce the quality looks needed to come out on top those close games. With a veteran-laden squad returning in 2011, Mariano feels the Diplomats have the pieces in place to turn those one-goal defeats into victories and earn a spot in the CC postseason.
Although F&M lost all-conference performers in Eileen O'Reilly and Valerie Sauers to graduation, the potential for this year's squad is high as nine of 11 starters are back in the fold from last season.
The strength of the Diplomats likely lies in the midfield, where a trio of juniors will lead the way. Maura Hennigan, Diana Aulisa and Rachel Cooke all return as starters for F&M in the middle of the field.
The defensive unit, a group that allowed just 27 goals last fall, brings back several key cogs. Senior Kimmy Fisher and junior Steph McDonald return as starters and will serve as anchors of the F&M defense.
The Diplomats also welcome back four of their five leading scorers from 2010, including senior forwards Becky Willert and Allison McLaren along with junior Chelsey Talhelm. Willert notched a team-high 11 goals last year, McLaren totaled eight goals and three assists and Talhelm added four goals and five assists on the year.
At goalkeeper, F&M will look for sophomore Avery Koep to fill the void for the loss of Sarah Dileo. Koep earned five starts last season, posting a 2-3 record with a 2.09 goals against average.
In addition, Mariano will lean on contributions from several freshmen this year. Nine newcomers will join F&M in 2011, with all coming to Lancaster from quality high school programs. Mariano expects several of them to see meaningful minutes from the outset and add depth to the squad.
The Diplomats will be put to the test from the get-go as they host Elizabethtown on Friday, September 2nd. Elizabethtown is the first of seven non-conference matchups for F&M this season, six of which posted winning records a year ago.
F&M will then travel to Alvernia on September 7th for its first road contest, before hosting Eastern on September 10th and Immaculata on September 13th as final tune-ups for the Centennial slate.
The Diplomats will open CC play at Swarthmore on September 17th and host McDaniel on September 20th in their conference home opener.