To return to .500, field hockey needs road win

With the season rapidly drawing to a close, the field hockey team heads south to New York City for a game that could determine whether it has a chance at a winning record for 2007.

The Bulldogs (7-8, 2-3 Ivy) will face Ivy competitor Columbia (8-6, 3-2) tonight at the Field Hockey Venue. The game is the team’s final road contest and second-to-last game overall. Next weekend the Elis return home for one final conference match against Brown (0-14, 0-5).

Last weekend, the Elis saw some of their season’s hopes shattered when they dropped a Friday evening matchup against Ivy rival Penn (7-8, 3-2). The heartbreaking 4-3 overtime defeat meant that, with a total of three Ivy losses, the Bulldogs could no longer hope for a first-place finish in the Ancient Eight.

And Sunday’s 3-1 loss to another Pennsylvania opponent, Lock Haven (13-5), saw the Elis drop below .500 after two weeks with more victories than defeats. To finish with a winning record, the Bulldogs will need to come out ahead in both of their final two games. It would be their first winning season since 2003.

“At this point, considering we’re out of the running for the Ivy championship, there’s still pressure there, but it’s not to the same degree,” midfielder Laura Pierce ’09 said. “Still, we definitely want to have a winning season, maybe go to the ECACs, and turn the corner from the last couple of years.”

Columbia is coming off a tough 1-0 loss to Vermont (12-5) last Sunday, a defeat that snapped a five-game winning streak, three games of which were Ivy matches. Columbia currently sits in a three-way tie for third place, along with Harvard (7-8, 3-2) and Penn. The Elis are in sixth place, ahead of Dartmouth (5-9, 1-4) and the struggling Bears.

Tonight’s battle could well be decided by defense. Eli goaltender Charlotte Goins ’10 is second in the nation in save percentage, at 82.7 percent, but Lion netminder Gena Miller is ranked first, eking by Goins with a save percentage of 83.1 percent. Miller is also fourth in average goals against at 0.94, and Columbia as a whole is ranked an impressive seventh in shutouts per game, with 0.36.

“I’ve made the girls aware that Columbia’s very stingy in their circle and they don’t give up many goals,” head coach Pam Stuper said. “They haven’t given up many goals all year, and I’m sure they’re not going to start tonight. So we need to make the most of the opportunities we have.”

The Lions’ formidable defense means the Bulldog offense will have to be at the top of its game, even with highly ranked offensive players like forward Ashley McCauley ’10. McCauley is second in the country for goals per game, at 0.93, and fourth for points per game, at 2.2.

“I think it’s going to be a really good game in the sense that it’s going to be about us penetrating a very strong defense with the great attack that we can generate,” midfielder Ali Rotondo ’09 said. “We’ve just got two games left, and we want to come out with wins for both of them. So it’s a big game tonight, and we’re very excited.”

Cracking Columbia’s defense could prove to be a difficult task. But after a strong week of practice during which they used the experiences of last weekend to tweak their play, the Bulldogs look toward to tonight’s faceoff in the knowledge that it will be demanding, Stuper said.

“Like any other Ivy matchup, it’s going to be an exciting game,” she said. “I think again we had a good week of practice, and hopefully we can take the lessons we learned last weekend and take care of what we need to tonight to get the results that we want.”

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