The Huskies finished the 2015 campaign with a 22-1 record, losing in the NCAA Semifinals and falling just short of winning their third-straight NCAA Championship.
However, UConn is back with a vengeance this season. Six players graduated last season, but seven are returning with senior status – including the nation’s leading scorer, Charlotte Veitner, and dominant goalkeeper, Nina Klein.
“We have a senior class of seven outstanding leaders,” said head coach Nancy Stevens, the all-time field hockey wins leader in NCAA history.
UConn is coming off a 4-1 exhibition win over Boston University this past Saturday at the George J. Sherman Family Sports Complex. On that same day, the team chose redshirt-junior Nina Klein, as well as seniors Olivia Bolles and Anna Middendorf, to be tri-captains.
“Not only are they excellent field hockey players; they are excellent students and each has very strong character,” said Stevens. “All the players won’t respond to the same voice, so having multiple captains gives us good coverage.”
For Bolles, the captaincy is becoming a family tradition. Her older sister, Marie Elena Bolles, also served as a team captain in 2014.
“She led a lot by example. She wasn’t as vocal as others but she set good examples of how you should be practicing, playing and being a good teammate,” said Bolles on her sister. “It feels good to be trusted and looked up to. We have a strong senior class and anyone can be a leader.”
UConn will play six teams this season that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season, including the season-opener against Stanford. Eight teams on the schedule finished in the RPI Top 25 at season’s end.
The first weekend includes games against Stanford and Pacific, with the Huskies wasting very little time to hit the road.
“It’s a great trip for us because Stanford is a perennial power and Pacific was great last season. We wanted to find great competition,” said Stevens. “You also have to play well on the road because it’s good preparation for the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.”
For a schedule that includes trips to play Old Dominion, Virginia, Maryland and Boston College, getting road experience early can help the Huskies moving forward.
Though it was a good showing for UConn on Saturday, the past week has been full of two-a-day practices as the team looks to strengthen one area in particular.
“It’s defensive organization. We’re committed to playing strong defense,” said Stevens. “Good defense generates your attack. It’s critically important. We spent this week working on our pressing, outlets and transfer through the midfield.”
Getting through the hot days of August is no small feat, however, and two practices a day would be tough on any athlete. According to Bolles, though, morale is high and the team is starting to gel.
“Things have come together these past couple practices and we have a lot of energy, so the team is looking good,” said Bolles. “In the exhibition, I thought we played well together. We had new people in new places, but it was a positive effort.”
With the additions of Liberty and Quinnipiac in the Big East this season, seven conference games are part of the schedule. The first is against Old Dominion on Sept. 16.
UConn opens with Stanford on Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. (ET) and Pacific on Aug. 28 at 5 p.m. (ET).
Though the schedule will be difficult, Stevens and the Huskies are optimistic heading into next week. Winners of two of the past three NCAA titles, UConn looks to add to its record book.