Field Hockey: #14 BU Set for Patriot League Title Defense

By: Alex Smith

It all comes down to this.

After an unpredictable regular season that saw BU (12-5) post its first ever 7-0 start, the no. 14 Terriers earned the high seed and hosting rights to the Patriot League Field Hockey Tournament. American, Holy Cross and Bucknell also qualified (in that order) for the four team tournament, which begins on Friday at 1 p.m. as the Terriers host Bucknell. Holy Cross faces American at New Balance later that day at 4 p.m. and the winners will square off for the title at noon on Sunday.

If you’re having deja vu, it isn’t just you. Last year the Terriers hosted the postseason, and the rest of the field was nearly identical. Swap in Lafayette for Holy Cross as the third seed and you’d have the same teams in the same order. For BU, narrow one-goal victories over Bucknell and then American handed them the 2015 title, and that path will most likely be the same this year. (Feel free to relive last year’s drama here).

“I anticipate two really outstanding games, it took American overtime to beat Bucknell away, and Bucknell is playing really well right now. They pounced on Lafayette in a must win, so we’ve got four teams playing their best hockey right now and anything can happen.Sometimes you need to get lucky,” said head coach Sally Starr.

I’ve had the privilege to broadcast BU’s home games on the PLN each of the past three seasons, and have seen plenty of each Patriot League team. Below you’ll find the field broken down, along with my predictions.

taylor-blood
Taylor Blood attacks the circle with reckless abandon

#1 Boston University Terriers (12-5, 5-1 Patriot League)

  • Current rank: 14
  • Highest ranking this season: 9
  • Top 20 wins: @  #16 Northwestern, vs #20 Maine, @ #13 BC, @ #20 American
  • Bad Losses: @ Lafayette (shootout loss)

After back to back Patriot League titles in 2014 and 2015, the Terriers come into the tournament as clear favorites yet again. Their schedule will have prepared them well, and is as tough as any in the NCAA. Losses to Lafayette and Harvard (who went on to be ranked as high as 16) show this team is capable of dropping a dud, but their other three defeats came against three of the top 5 teams in the nation (including number #1 and #2). Especially heartbreaking was the narrow 2-1 loss to #1 Duke in Durham. The Blue Devils scored off a penalty corner with a single minute remaining, dooming the Terriers who nearly pulled off the upset. This is a team that could contend deep into the NCAA tournament, but they must take care of business in the conference first. Factor in home-field advantage and it is easy to see the Terriers completing a three-peat.

Player to watch: So difficult for me to choose just one here, but I’ll go with Taylor Blood. The senior has converted to midfield this season and the change has injected something new into the Terrier attack. Watch for her to impact the game in a variety of ways mostly through the left flank. Cutting inside, running past defenders and scoring goals are what she does best, and finding the perfect words to describe her relentless yet graceful tenacity is what makes doing the play-by-play such a blast.

blood-2
Blood gives her all each time she steps onto the field

#2 American University Eagles (11-6, 5-1 Patriot League)

  • Current rank: Not ranked
  • Highest ranking this season: 19
  • Top 20 wins: None
  • Bad Losses: None

The Eagles return to Boston for the postseason as perhaps the most “boring” of the four teams, not in terms of their play but in terms of their predictability. AU’s consistency this season was remarkable. They performed as expected in nearly every game, failing to secure a single top 20 win despite multiple opportunities, but also avoided even a single upset.  American have consistently hovered around the top 20, and entered the rankings for three weeks before being left out in November’s poll.  They come in with something to prove, too, as they essentially handed BU hosting rights to the tournament. BU and American were tied at 1-1 in D.C. last weekend with home-field advantage on the line, and the Terriers had a player advantage due to a yellow card late in the second half. Inexplicably, the Eagles pushed numbers forward inside the final five minutes and were hit on the counter for the game winning goal during the 11-on-10. The mental lapse cost the Eagles dearly and they’ll likely travel north with a chip on their shoulder.

Players to watch: Rafaela Rubas and Natalie Konerth are the catalysts of American’s offense. Konerth registered 12 goals this season and is a classic finisher with great speed and excellent poise in the circle. Rubas, a sophomore from Vienna, captured last year’s Patriot League Rookie of the Year award and was also selected to the All-Tournament Team. She’s an attack minded player in midfield and possesses excellent technique with a fierce shot to boot. She finished the year with eight goals and seven assists, and look for her to make a difference for the Eagles on corner sets.

amanda
Amanda Cassera leads BU in goals (9), but also uses her length to challenge opponents defensively

 

#3 Holy Cross Crusaders (9-9, 3-3 Patriot League)

  • Current rank: Not ranked
  • Highest ranking this season: N/A
  • Top 20 wins: None
  • Bad Losses: @ Lehigh, @ American (8-1 final) Win against Colgate (2-1 in 2OT)

The Crusaders are easily the weakest team in the field despite their #3 ranking. They struggled to the .500 mark playing by far the easiest schedule of any team in this tournament, and needed double overtime to best cellar-dwelling Colgate (American won 6-1, BU won 9-0, Bucknell won 3-0). Holy Cross has looked good against teams with similar RPIs, the issue there being those teams are up in the 50s while the rest of the field in this tournament is 27 or lower. They return to the postseason for the first time since 2006, but the outlook is bleak; the Eagles thrashed the Crusaders 8-1 when the two teams met in September. While it is difficult to see Holy Cross being embarrassed like that in the postseason, it certainly does not bode well for BU’s turnpike rival.

Player to watch: Goalkeeper Marcia LaPlante was absolutely ridiculous in the Crusaders’ loss to BU. The Terriers outshot Holy Cross 25-1 which should have yielded a 6 or 7-1 final scoreline. Instead, you’d have thought the Crusaders were actually in the game despite never consistently connecting more than 3 passes together. A 3-1 defeat under those circumstances speaks volumes of LaPlante’s ability to bail her team out, and if the Crusaders are to find any success in this tournament they’ll need their freshman keeper to find her best form yet.

bea
Bea Baumberger Altirriba has returned from an early-season knee injury to join her senior teammates on the field

#4 Bucknell Bison (9-8, 3-3 Patriot League)

  • Current rank: Not ranked
  • Highest ranking this season: N/A
  • Top 20 winsvs no. 12 Albany
  • Bad Losses: @ Holy Cross

Bucknell is the fourth seed for the second consecutive year after hosting the tournament back in 2014. They have become a familiar playoff foe for the Terriers, who bested them for the title in 2014 and topped them a year later in the semis in 2OT (this was when Sofi Laurito became a household name). They played a tough schedule, including several ranked opponents and came up just short (4-3) against #2 Syracuse. The Bison seem to adjust their play to their competition, as shown by narrow one goal losses to both BU and American this year. Then they went and lost to Holy Cross in a shootout just to make analyzing them that much more confusing. Which Bucknell squad will show up on Friday? Great question.

Player to watch: Nicole Rupnik netted twice against the defending national champion Syracuse. ‘Nuff said. The sophomore leads the Bison with eight goals this year, a comfortable three goals clear of any teammate. She likely won’t have many opportunities against a tight Terrier defense, but did tally a goal on her only shot of the game against BU in October.

cammy-j
Cammy Jensen has starred in goal for the Terriers this season

Semi-Final prediction: Chalk. The high seeds should win both first round matchups.

I know, boring. But look at the facts. Holy Cross won’t stand a chance against American, that much is nearly certain. I really don’t need to justify that other than to point back to the 8-1 scoreline the Eagles hung on the Crusaders earlier this year.

BU and Bucknell should offer an intriguing matchup, but despite the 2-1 final earlier in the season the Terriers did dominate the game, outshooting the Bison 13-3. This time New Balance Field is the setting and that should tip the scale further in BU’s favor. Add in the fact that the Terriers won’t enter the game on a 4 game losing skid as they did in October, and it all bodes extremely well for coach Starr’s squad.

You can catch both semi-final games on the Patriot League Network, with myself and Max Wolpoff on the call.

For more pictures, head to Terrier Shots on Facebook. Photos courtesy of Nicole Ericson.

 

 

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