Field hockey to kick off 2018 campaign against Colby

Junior forward Rachel Hamilton looks to pass in Tufts' 3–2 Homecoming loss to Middlebury on Oct. 7, 2017. Evan Sayles for Tufts University

Tufts will begin its 2018 campaign in earnest when it heads to Waterville, Maine to take on conference foe Colby. This season’s squad follows in the footsteps of a 2017 group that was full of talent but ultimately fell 2–1 to Bowdoin early in the NESCAC Tournament and failed to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Last year’s senior class was a strong one, cumulatively posting 16 goals and 46 points over the course of the season. Their presence will be missed, but it isn’t lost entirely: Former midfielder Celia Lewis (E ’18) will return in an unofficial capacity to assist coach Tina Mattera while finishing up her master’s degree in electrical engineering at Tufts.

Mattera believes Lewis’ return gives the team added expertise.

“Celia has just got great energy,” Mattera said. “She’s super passionate about the game, so I think it’s been fun [having her on the staff]. And having gone here, she’s been a great resource with the [first-years] and their classes. She’s been a great asset so far.”

Filling the shoes of players like Lewis will be this year’s senior class, which could prove to be as prolific as the last. Together, forwards Hanaa Malik and Gigi Tutoni, along with midfielders Claire Trilling and Fallon Shaughnessy, contributed 14 goals and 39 points in 2017 and appear determined to build on that effort in their final year.

“I think something notable this year are the seniors,” Mattera said. “They’re not talking a lot; it’s a lot of action instead. They’re out there, they’re working hard … but they’ve also found a balance between when to be serious and when to have fun, and I think that’s been rubbing off on the rest of the team.”

The seniors know they have a lot of work ahead, but the cohesiveness of the team as a whole has made their job much easier. Shaughnessy, who will serve as a co-captain this year with Tutoni, credits her teammates with helping her adopt her new leadership role.

“I think the transition has been easy,” Shaughnessy said. “With the structure of field hockey, we’ve always been a strong group. We really make a point to make sure that no matter your grade, you’re still a contributor and you’re still completely equal when it comes to being a member of the team. I think this year in particular has been great because we’re not only teammates, but great friends.”

This year’s team fields a lot of depth and young talent at all positions, from top to bottom, and Mattera expects every single player to contend for playing time throughout the season. Heading the youth movement are the Jumbos’ seven first-years. The new class has impressed the team’s coaches and veteran players with its immediate energy and commitment to the team.

Senior goalkeeper Emily Polinski is particularly pleased with the performance of her fellow netminders, first-years Andie Stallman and Emma Smith.

“I feel really lucky to be playing with Andie and Emma,” Polinski said. “They’re both really talented, and I feel like I’m helping them, but at the same time they’re also pushing me to be better.”

Mattera echoed Polinski’s sentiments.

“The [first-year] goalkeepers have started out really strong — we’re very impressed,” she said. “It’s been the most depth we’ve had at that position for many years, so I’m really comfortable playing any of them.”

However, the road ahead won’t be easy for the Jumbos, as the NESCAC remains perhaps the fiercest conference in Div. III. NESCAC teams have captured seven of the last 11 national championships, and several teams in the conference have a shot at making it 8-for-12.

Tufts got off to a hot start against some tough opponents last year, winning seven of its first nine games — losing by a single goal to both MIT and Babson. Repeating that success will be more difficult this season, as the team’s first two games against Colby and Babson are on the road, whereas its first four games last year were on its home turf of Ounjian Field.

Tufts will return home on Sept. 15 for two games before a visit to Kean in Union, N.J. The team will then open a crucial three-game home stretch against NESCAC rivals Wesleyan, Amherst and Hamilton to close out the month.

With only 15 regular season games, success is at a premium for the Jumbos. One result can be the difference between an NCAA berth and an early ticket home.

“We do not have one easy game — there isn’t one easy opponent,” Mattera said. “We know we can beat anyone on any given day, and we also know we can lose. If we’ve got a bad game or if we come out slow, that can hurt us. So we say, ‘The second that whistle goes, are you ready to compete hard for 70 minutes?'”

The team’s first opportunity to show its strength comes on Saturday at 1 p.m., when it hosts Colby. The Jumbos shut out the Mules on opening day last season, 3–0. To start off on the right foot, they’ll need to come out with the energy they’ve showcased in practice during the preseason.

“The beginning of our schedule is so incredibly tough, especially considering we only get one week of preseason,” Polinski said. “The quicker that we can get a few early wins in and come out strong, the more momentum we’ll have carrying us forward.”