first_imgMaggie Befort swears she doesn’t want to forget how the 2009 field hockey season ended. The loss causes the permanent, trademark smile on Befort’s face to dissipate on the spot. The mere mention of the 7-3 loss to Syracuse’s rival Princeton causes Befort’s beaming eyes to immediately wander, wanting to seemingly focus on something detached, isolated in the distance. Something that could never remind Befort of the end of the 2009 season. Even if she vows she never wants to forget it. At the mention of the 2009 season before practice Wednesday, Befort was in search of something. ‘When we lost to Princeton,’ Befort said with a pause, exhaling deeply, ‘We walked away from the fields thinking, ‘Did that really just happen to us?” What happened was one of the worst halves in SU field hockey history. The Syracuse back walked out onto that field against Princeton with a 3-2 halftime lead and only 35 minutes separating her team from a third-round game in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers went on to score five goals in the second half and sent the Orange packing with a 7-3 defeat.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text Now as No. 8 Syracuse (5-3) returns home after six straight games on the road, including yet another loss to Princeton, the Orange embarks on the last half of its season with a similar goal in mind to Befort’s. SU doesn’t want to forget about the end to the 2010 season for a completely different reason. Befort hopes it ends with a completely different outcome: Syracuse Orange, 2010 NCAA field hockey national champions. But whatever the memories of this season become, it all starts with what happened this offseason. An offseason that started the second Befort realized the 2009 season, the season she already knows she will never forget, was over. Said Befort: ‘It was really disappointing, and we never wanted to feel that way again.’ *** The feeling that enveloped Befort and the 2009 Syracuse field hockey team was one of a stunted season for a team initially ranked No. 3 in the country. But the immediate feeling of a sudden end to a season instantly became one of needed growth, Befort and teammates said. With the departure of only two part-time starters, the Orange knew it would have almost the entirety of its team back. Eighteen players and 10 starters from a year ago began another year, with another chance to compete for a national championship. The stunted finish to the 2009 season became immediate growth for 2010, the year Befort and her four fellow senior starters — Lindsey Conrad, Kim Coyle, Kristin Girouard and Shelby Schraden — knew they would ultimately be remembered for. ‘We had the attitude, going into the spring season, that we were going to grow,’ Befort said. Seven of the 11 starters from the 2008 team who went to the final four are no longer freshmen and sophomores. Those players turned into juniors and seniors after the loss to the Tigers, making this offseason their last chance to prepare for a national championship together. And the team’s younger players, including sophomore back Iona Holloway, realize the importance of the relationship between the team’s greatest luxury: those seasoned juniors and seniors. Holloway, a native of Glasgow, finally gets it, through the seniors. She gets what the last three years have been about. She gets what this season is about. She gets how tough that second half to Princeton really was. She gets why Befort needs to take a deep breath when recalling the details from that second half. She gets the burden on these seniors. ‘We have so much respect for the seniors in seeing how much work they have done to get where they are. We are really excited to play with them and for them, because after being here for a year, I think I finally understand the whole national championship stuff.’ *** It’s ‘stuff’ that has been the monkey on SU head coach Ange Bradley and the upperclassmen’s collective back since the majority of campus finally took real notice of the Syracuse field hockey program. A national championship has been expected of this group since Oct. 14, 2008: the day the Orange became the No. 1 team in the nation. But since Oct. 14, 2008, no one has expected that national championship more than Bradley, the seniors and the juniors, themselves. With that goal in mind, Nov. 15, 2009, was the lowest point for Bradley in her quest to win a national championship with the five seniors whose rise has paralleled that of the program. That of Bradley. She said after the loss to Princeton, the team didn’t rush right into the offseason. The Orange took some time off to relax and reflect on the season and come into the spring ready for hard work. And once spring practice rolled around, Bradley decided it would be best for her players to partake in a practice they hadn’t in 2009. With it came the incubation for the growth. During the spring of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Bradley had her players play indoor field hockey in the Women’s Building. The main difference between indoor hockey and outdoor hockey is speed of the game, Bradley said. Last year the coach said she chose to not play indoors, but decided it would be best for her team to play inside again this year. With speed of the game in mind, SU wanted to get faster. Yes, faster, even if Bradley and the 2008 and 2009 editions of her team were already known as, perhaps, the fastest teams in the country. With the incubation of SU’s breakneck speed inside the cramped Women’s Building came the 2010 edition of SU field hockey. An edition Bradley hopes is even faster, even more hectic for opponents to deal with. But skilled, as well. ‘Basically, you play five players with a goalkeeper and you put up boards,’ Bradley said. ‘It’s a lot of repositioning, and you can’t lift the ball, so you got to rely on your skills.’ Alongside the further development of the team’s trademark playing style came other avenues for change, as well. SU played two other off-season scrimmages. One of the games was ordinary, a friendly match against the Delaware alumni. The other: against a men’s team from Washington, D.C. ‘When you play against men, you are playing against higher speed and stronger,’ Bradley said. ‘So you have to think differently.’ *** But, the Orange’s off-season competition wasn’t limited to the bevy of unorthodox spring sessions. The growth infiltrated and overtook the USA Field Hockey National Training Center at Virginia Beach, Va. But it started with Syracuse taking over Pennsylvania. Eight players from the SU squad went on to play as part of one of the teams in the 2010 Women’s National Championship in Virginia Beach, Va. The Pennsylvania squad — that Bradley was an assistant coach for — had the most Orange presence. Befort, Conrad, junior midfielder Nicole Nelson and junior forward Heather Susek were all members of the team. Senior forward Shelby Schraden and sophomore Kelsey Millman played for the Pennsylvania Junior team that won gold. SU assistant coaches Lynn Farquhar and Guy Cathro were coaches on the team. In terms of medals, SU was the most decorated team at the event, and SU sophomore goalie Leann Stiver — who was a member of the North senior team — said it was a great chance to get to know her Syracuse competition. ‘Each of us took little things from different teams,’ Stiver said. ‘Like ‘Oh, I know how we are going to beat them next year.’ I found out how they operate.’ In addition to the eight players participating in the Women’s National Championship, three players honed their skills abroad. Sophomore back Amy Kee and Holloway played on a club team in Germany together, while junior forward Martina Loncarica played in her native Argentina. Some of the team was together. Some of the team was separate. But after the ripening of the team’s playing style in the spring came lessons learned for 2010. Alien situations for the players abroad, but situations they are hoping will get this team over the hump, the burden. The ‘national championship stuff.’ ‘We were having to follow these massive German girls all over the field,’ Holloway said ‘Wherever they went, we would just follow them, which is not like having played here.’ *** Loncarica — the native of Buenos Aires, the spark plug to the SU offense for the past two years, the ball-hawking presence on most Syracuse attacks — followed Holloway and Kee all the way to Amsterdam. From Argentina to Amsterdam came Loncarica and the in-person talk. While walking the streets of Amsterdam, the teammates reflected, pondered and forecasted. Then they sat down. And that talk, the talk that had dominated Facebook via pictures from Germany and Virginia Beach all summer, was discussed. ‘I can just remember having these conversations about what we were going to do to win the national championships,’ Holloway said. The burden, and all the team had done to alleviate that burden, was looked into. Commiserating in Amsterdam, the hopes and dreams that started after a loss to Princeton were still days and miles away, in the distance. But they were brought to the surface. And the trio pinpointed the burden and what it will take to alleviate it. They were not in search of anything. They discussed the something. With nine regular season games remaining, it remains to be seen if that monkey will no longer linger every time SU takes the AstroTurf to practice at J.S. Coyne Field. It remains to be seen if the something, the something Befort was scanning the distance for Wednesday behind Coyne Field, will become a national championship. Said Holloway: ‘We were all getting goose bumps from just talking about it. It’s those certain moments when you’re with you’re best friends from the team and just thinking, ‘We can actually do this.” [email protected] Published on September 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more