By: Alex Smith
BOSTON — Entering the final third of their season, the #17 Terriers (9-4) travel south for this weekend’s match-ups against Lehigh and defending national champion UConn. The Huskies (13-0) currently hold a #2 national ranking, and spent most of the season’s early days occupying the top spot.
Despite a tough overtime loss last weekend to #4 Duke, the Terriers will arrive in Bethlehem, PA brimming with confidence. Freshman Ally Hammel earned Corvias Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors after her first half hat trick sparked BU’s 6-1 route of Holy Cross.
Rachel Coll repeated as Defensive Player of the Week, and keeper Cammy Jensen was also honored for her solid weekend play, winning Goalkeeper of the Week for her six saves across both contests. The junior has earned the award twice this season and now leads the Patriot League with a 1.79 goals against average.
The defense has been key for the Terriers recently, and they have performed exceptionally well given the absence of senior back Katie Bernatchez, who has missed the last four contests with a rib injury. She won’t be available this weekend, but coach Starr isn’t worried.
“I think we did a really good job against Duke, how we pressed, and really controlled play in the first half,” said Starr. Part of that strong defensive effort was freshman Maika Akroyd, who earned her first two career starts last weekend.
“Early in the season we spoke as a staff about Maika, we thought she would be making a contribution late in the season. She’s a very skilled player, has a lot of experience, so it was just a matter of her adjusting to our style of play. Thank God that was true, particularly with Katie’s injury. [Maika’s development] couldn’t have had better timing,” said Starr.
Akroyd certainly looks settled, and that can be largely credited to her fellow New Zealand native Rachel Coll, who anchors the Terrier backline. “There’s a kiwi connection there between the two of them,” said Starr. “Rachel as a senior and as a captain has mentored her really well, helped her through that tough stretch when she wasn’t playing. Maika kept working hard and once her opportunity came she’s maximized it.”
Though Lehigh (2-9, 0-3 PL) has struggled in league play this season, coach Starr and the league leading Terriers won’t be taking the game lightly. “You just need to look at American’s game against Lehigh, it went into overtime. Lehigh is a tough place to play,” said Starr.
“They don’t have a watering system so we are playing on dry turf, and they use smooth balls, not the dimpled balls. Everything feels different, first touch is different. That can level things a little bit, but we just need to control what we can control and compete,” said Starr.
BU faces a much tougher test in Sunday afternoon’s non-league matchup against the Huskies. UConn has spent time at the top of the rankings this season, before dropping below Syracuse (13-0), who are adjudged to have had a tougher schedule.
The defending champions won’t get much of a breather before their date with BU, as they face 11th ranked Old Dominion on Saturday. “We have to play a lot of back to back games, but this is one of those rare times that UConn does as well. They can’t have all their eyes on us which puts us on a level playing field going into the game,” said Starr.
Having only fallen to the Huskies 2-1 in a shootout last year, Starr isn’t looking to change her team’s approach against top ranked opponents. “There’s a lot of respect. It’s a team that scores a bundle of goals, so we have to be very tactically smart when we play them.”
The Terriers, though, have also scored in bunches at times this year, especially against lower ranked opposition. “I think our counterattack has been outstanding, we’re scoring a lot of goals this year as well, so they’ll need to respect that. It will inhibit how many players they attack with,” said Starr.
The Terriers will have a 12:00 p.m. start time in Bethlehem, and Sunday’s matchup in Connecticut begins at 3:00 p.m. The league match at Lehigh will be live on PLN, while the UConn contest will be broadcasted on the WTBU radio stream.