By JAY BENDLIN
UAlbany field hockey has won five of the past 10 America East Conference titles and they have no intention of slowing down.
America East coaches unanimously voted the Great Danes as the favorite for the 2019 season. With schools such as Monmouth, Maine, Vermont and UMass Lowell, the Great Danes have a challenging road ahead.
“It’s flattering to get that early season vote, but in the end, it never really guarantees you anything,” said coach Phil Sykes.
With early season opponents such as National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) No. 12 Delaware, No. 6 Harvard, and No. 5 Princeton, the Danes have difficult tests early-on.
UAlbany put up a fight against Delaware and Harvard, but fell one goal short in both contests. They will look to improve on a tough five-game road trip that starts with Princeton.
With powerful opponents all across the Northeast, the Great Danes are aiming to “get the kinks out,” said Sykes. “We try not to get too caught up in the early season.”
When championship season rolls around, Sykes expects the Dane Train to be ready to roll.
Goalie Melissa Nealon is familiar with the fame and stardom of being a well-respected and talented field hockey player.
“Being ranked number one, you can’t let it go to your head,” said Nealon. “It gives us a reason to work harder.”
Nealon was a 2018 NFHCA Third Team All-American, two-time America East All-Conference selection, and 2018 America East Co-Goalkeeper of the Year, with a .813 save percentage that led the NCAA.
“The goal every year is to win America East,” said Nealon. “We are going to take the season game by game.”
The team also returns NFHCA All-Northeast Region First Team selection and America East All-Conference First Teamer, senior Dana Bozek. She ranked second on the 2018 team in goals (11) and points (26).
To achieve their championship aspirations, it is important for the No. 22 ranked team to connect.
“We motivate each other,” said junior Katie MacCallum. “If a team doesn’t work together and for each other, it’s never going to work. Albany’s always been good with working for each other. It’s been clear with how we play.”
MacCallum, a member of the 2017 America East All-Rookie Team, NFHCA All-Northeast Region Second Team and a member of the Scottish U21 National Team, is poised to make a big impact this season.
Joining MacCallum from overseas is junior Cosima Rocktaeschel, who comes from Germany, where she also competed at the national level. To fill the departed positions on the team, the UAlbany coaching staff also brought in Pulou Bakker and Julie Rudijk, two freshmen from the Netherlands.
“Everyone plays a different style of hockey,” said MacCallum. “It’s nice to see new skills and new styles, when you see someone do something it may inspire you to try that thing.”
Freshman Lillian Hickey wasted no time making an impact for the Lady Danes. Hickey scored the lone UAlbany goal, the first of her career, in a 2-1 overtime loss against No. 5 Harvard.
“It hit me when all my teammates came up to me and hugged me,” said Hickey. “They knew that I was happy about it. I’m glad I could get my first goal for this team.”
Hickey grew up an hour away from UAlbany, so the coaching staff has been aware of her talent for years.
“Lillian is a local kid, she is from our club,” said Sykes. “We’ve coached her since she was 10 years old, so it is awesome to see that.”
The UAlbany Field Hockey team returns to Alumni Turf on Friday Sept. 27 at 2:00 p.m. against the Sacred Heart Pioneers.