Field Hockey Playoff Preview

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - page 2
 

The Muhlenberg field hockey team likes the way its first postseason journey since 2007 is going to start. With a chance to make history and avenge an overtime loss, the Mules wouldn’t have it any other way.

Just a few days removed from a 2-1 setback at the hands of Haverford, Muhlenberg won’t have to wait long for a chance at redemption. The fifth-seeded Mules meet the fourth-seeded Fords in the first round of the Centennial Conference playoffs on Wednesday night.

Dayna Hovern
Hovern is second among active Mules with 15 career goals and 34 points.
“It’s really great to play them again, especially after last weekend,” said senior Dayna Hovern. “We’re very familiar with them. Despite the loss, we feel really confident.”

The winner of Wednesday’s clash, set for 7:00, earns a date with defending champion and host Franklin & Marshall (16-1, 10-0), the No. 7 team in Division III, in a semifinal at noon Saturday. The other semifinal pits second-seeded Ursinus (12-5, 8-2), which won the tournament eight years in a row before succumbing to the Diplomats in last year’s semis, against third-seeded Dickinson (12-5, 7-3). The winners square off at noon Sunday for the CC crown and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

For the Mules (8-9, 6-4) to capture their first CC playoff victory since 2006, the only one in program history, they’ll have to do so against a Fords squad that is no stranger to recent postseason success. Haverford (10-7, 6-4) has made the conference semifinals in each of the last four seasons, reaching the championship game last year and in 2010. Muhlenberg, meanwhile, will be making its fourth appearance in the 13 years the league has held a postseason tournament.

“We’re excited to make a name for Muhlenberg and establish ourselves as a contender in this conference,” said Hovern, tied for second on the team with four goals. “The last few years we’ve been a rebuilding program, and it’s great to finally go to the playoffs.”

Playing for the second time in four days, the Mules and Fords will add a win-or-go-home dynamic to a matchup that had the intensity of a playoff clash in its first iteration. Though Haverford left Allentown with the victory, Muhlenberg held advantages of 14-8 in shots and 14-5 in corners. What Hovern and the Mules want is a repeat of the effort – just not the end result.

“We felt like we controlled the game,” Hovern said. “It was disappointing we didn’t win, but if we play like that again we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”

 

Sierra Lenker
Lenker finished with a .759 save percentage in the regular season. Senior Ashley DeAngelis (right) had four defensive saves, giving her 17 for her career.
Muhlenberg ended its playoff drought on the strength of a defense that allowed just 1.30 goals per game in conference play. The Mules posted three shutouts and never surrendered more than two goals in CC games; they held Ursinus, the nation’s second-leading scoring team at the time, scoreless in the second half of a come-from-behind 3-2 victory that clinched a spot in the postseason. Junior goalie Sierra Lenker was second in the CC with an .838 save percentage in conference contests.

The Mules’ offense benefited from their deep stable of weapons. Thirteen different players found the back of the cage, tying the record set by the 1989 team, which earned the program’s only NCAA Tournament berth. Junior Kayleigh Thies ranks fifth in the CC with 30 points (11 goals, 8 assists), while nine other Mules, including Hovern, have contributed between five and 10.

Haverford, for its part, gave up just 16 goals in league contests, good for third in the CC. The Fords and Mules are evenly matched on paper, with each scoring 25 goals in conference play, and proved to be just as competitive between the lines.

The Mules were picked to finish tied for ninth in the 11-team CC before the season started, but a hot stretch in October helped them outperform expectations. After losing to Johns Hopkins and Dickinson during a four-game skid in September, Muhlenberg won six of its next seven games, capped by the stirring comeback against the Bears. The only loss in that span was a 2-1 setback against F&M.

“We know this is a special team,” Hovern said. “We feel really lucky to be going to the playoffs but we also know we deserve to be here.”

The postseason, however, is a different animal. Even though no current player has experienced playoff intensity before, Hovern is confident the Mules are equipped to thrive in uncharted waters.

“We’re looking to make history,” said Hovern. “We’re all very focused on winning. We’ve said it since our trip to Holland [this summer] that we want to be CC champs. With that in mind, we feel very confident.”