By: Greg Levinsky
Patriot League field hockey’s top two teams will battle on Saturday as 21st-ranked Boston University travels to American University as part of a two-game road trip. The Terriers also have a matchup with sixth-ranked Penn State the following day.
In chronicling the rivalry between the Terriers (4-2) and the Eagles (3-3), look no further than the careers of each side’s senior class. In 2015, the Terriers took the Patriot League title with a 2-1 victory. The next year, the Eagles stole the conference title by shutting out BU on their home turf. Despite not matching up in the playoffs last year, the Terriers escaped yet another challenge with a one-goal victory in the regular season.
“It’s always been a tough Patriot League game for us,” said senior co-captain Allie Doggett. “It’s always been a rivalry for us. They’re really good and know how to play us well.”
Over the past three seasons, the Terriers hold a 4-1 advantage in the rivalry, but the win-loss record is not demonstrative of numerous tight battles. Of those five contests, four have been decided by just one goal.
In the eyes of BU head coach Sally Starr, American has served as her squad’s top competitor in the Patriot League since moving to the conference in 2013.
“They’ve become a rival because they’re so good,” Starr said. “Usually the way to the championship for us is through American, and for them through Boston University, for the most part.”
Senior midfielder Maika Akroyd described the conference opener as a “big game.”
“American’s a really high-pressing and fast-paced team,” Akroyd said. “We’re going to have to pull out new tricks.”
“It’s two good teams, and they’ve always been a tougher contestant for us,” Doggett said. “It’s a good rivalry, but not a ‘bad blood’ type of thing.”
BU senior back Ally Hammel earned the league’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year; American senior forward Rafaela Rubas garnered Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors. Body for body, the two sides match up nearly perfectly.
“They’re an outstanding attacking team, so we’ve really got to make sure [that] transitionally, we’re organizing on defense,” Starr said. “In our attacking third, we’ll get opportunities, but we have to get productivity out of those opportunities.”
Sophomore and reigning Patriot League Offensive Player of The Week Ailsa Connolly leads the Terriers with five goals and two assists. The Scarlet and White earned a weekend sweep, including a victory over then ninth-ranked Northwestern. Hammel has two goals and four assists. Senior Kara Enoch, sophomore Petra Hall and freshman Casey Thompson round out the team’s multi-goal scorers.
American sophomore Carlotta Borcherding leads the team with four goals and is followed by Georgia Davies, who has three goals and two assists. Rubas has two tallies and three helpers.
Starr said the mental part of the game is paramount.
“Really try to avoid making a mistake that they’ll make you pay for,” Starr said of key strategies for the upcoming contest. “Take care of the ball, play well defensively and have good defensive structure.”
Although games have been close between the two sides, Akroyd emphasized the need to forget the past and focus on the task at hand.
“They way I see it is, half the time I don’t remember what the score is from the year before,” Akroyd said. “I just go out and play.”
She added: “With American, it’s just another game. We can hype up teams we play to get us mentally prepared to play the game.”
After the matchup in the nation’s capital, the Terriers are slated to host a neutral site contest against sixth-ranked Penn State. The Nittany Lions (3-2) will meet BU on the campus of the University of Maryland.
Penn State has four multi-goal scorers on the young season. Senior Aurelia Meijer has three goals and two assists, and freshman Anna Simon has a trio of goals. Senior Emily Klinger is a talented threat with two goals and one assist.
The Terriers have won 22 straight conference bouts in the regular season, dating back to 2014. There’ve been plenty of close calls–and one disappointing postseason–but usually, in recent history, they’ve seemingly always found a way to come out on top in conference play.
“It’s our league play now, so it’s extremely important for everyone to be dialed in,” Doggett said.
Greg Levinsky can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Greg on Twitter @GregLevinsky