By Mattie Fitzpatrick | February 8, 2023
Photo Credit: Jaime Dickinson/UAlbany Athletics
UAlbany Athletes celebrate after scoring a goal at Bryant University.
There’s nothing quite like UAlbany field hockey. The fast pace of the ball, the shuffles of the goalie and the calls of the referee, teams on the sideline watching tediously as their team protects their goal and attacks the opponent. Girls from all walks of life working together to reach a common goal, the sharp crack of a ball hitting off the backboard of a goal and the friendships built between teammates. The 2022 field hockey season for the University at Albany was one for the books. UAlbany earned multiple acclaims for the team itself, its coaching staff and individual players after their explosive debut against University of Michigan, one of the powerhouses included in the Big Ten Schools, and only their second debut in the NCAA Elite Eight since UAlbany entered D1 Athletics.
Photo Credit: Jaime Dickinson/UAlbany Athletics
Forward Robyn Murray dribbles the ball down the field during the first round of the NCAA Championship.
This year was marked by UAlbany claiming its first America East Field Hockey Championship since 2018 after triumphing over Stanford in an overtime victory, 2-1. head coach Phil Sykes said of this win, “I specifically remember just looking at the five girls taking the penalty shots at the end of the game and they were so focused and so confident.” In the 2021 season, UAlbany lost the American East Championship to Maine 2-1. Sykes said on being back in Maine where the conference tournament was taking place, “To win up in Maine where we had lost in the finals the year before in a penalty shoot out… It was such a nice moment.”
The win against Stanford allowed UAlbany to advance directly into the NCAA Tournament along teams such as Maryland, North Carolina, Syracuse and Iowa. UAlbany beat Michigan on their own field after the game went into overtime in the first round. Freshman Sophia Schoonmaker made the winning goal with just 55 seconds left in the first period of overtime. This win marked the second time UAlbany has made it to the Elite Eight with their last appearance in 2014. After their win over Michigan, they went on to face Penn State in the second round. Despite an amazing effort and 55 scoreless minutes, Penn State clutched the win and advanced to the third round. Although UAlbany did not win the NCAA Tournament, this season was not without its achievements.
Despite not making it to the next round, UAlbany has come so far from their debut in D1 Field Hockey Athletics in 1999. Coach Sykes has had a massive hand in the growth of the team since he was hired in 2005.
“We were one of the five worst teams in DI, had no field, and no identity,” Coach Sykes said. “We were moving conferences and now we’re a reigning top twenty type program; which myself and the coaches take great pride in and feel good about.”
According to Sykes, a major part of this growth is identifying good leadership, communication and chemistry on the field for their players, something the field hockey coaching staff here at UAlbany seem to excel at in this season is any indication. UAlbany finished this season with 55 goals under their belt, 81 saves, and a final ranking of 16th in the nation.
Photo Credit: Seth Poplaski/America East Conference
UAlbany Field Hockey players celebrate their victory in the East American Championship.
UAlbany had many individual accolades this season as well as team achievements. Sophomore Alison Smisdom was named First Team All America by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association. Four UAlbany players including Smisdom earned Northeast Region Honors, sophomore Floor De Ruiter who grabbed First Team Honors and seniors Julie Rodjik and Hannah Mangan who gained Second Team nods for their standout performance this season.
UAlbany’s Field Hockey Coaching Staff received their own acclaim this season as well for their leadership and hardwork. The National Field Hockey Coaches Association named Sykes, Associate Head Coach Andy Thornton, and Assistant Coach Dana Bozek, the Northeast Region Coaching Staff of the Year after they guided the Great Danes to its second Elite Eight Appearance in program history.
“Our leadership has been amazing. Elainna Burchell is our captain for the second year and our vice captains as well have been great,” Sykes said. “I think she keeps everyone in line and focused and not distracted on top of a close and caring group.”
Some highlights from this season include their win against Michigan after the Wolverines clutched the win in the Big Ten Tournament against massive schools such as Northwestern and Penn State, and improving on skills from years past, says Sykes.
“They were completely experienced enough from the previous year and we dominated that part of the game so that was a pretty exciting moment then obviously, beating Michigan who had just won the Big Ten Tournament on their home field in the NCAA Tournament in overtime.”
Photo Credit: Seth Poplaski, America East Conference. Coaches
Head Coach Phillip Sykes and Assistant Coaches Dana Bozek and Andy Thornton pose after their American East Championship win.
Some accomplished players and people are graduating from UAlbany this year as well.Two-time captain Elainia Burchell totaled 942 minutes on the field and started all 20 games this season. A forward and midfield graduate student, Burchell keeps the team together no matter what and has a gift for communication among teammates, according to Sykes, calling her the best captain the team has ever had.
Mackenzie Hilditch has been a light both on and off the field and it’s clear that her presence has made this team a more positive and team orientated place for all. In 2021, Hilditch totaled 162 minutes on the field and saw 12 game appearances. She will be sorely missed by coaching staff and players alike.
Senior Lillian Hickey is from the nearby Hoosick Falls, and has been playing with Coach Sykes since she was 10 years old on various club teams. Sykes said when asked about Hickey that she has evolved greatly as a player over the years and was a major presence on the team this year. With 17 game appearances and a total of 406 minutes on the field, Hickey’s presence on the team has clearly impacted the coaching staff and her teammates.
Vice captain Robyn Murray “has had a pretty amazing impact on our University over her time,” according to Sykes. “She worked as a tour guide over the summer after her first year here and did such a good job and had such a unique story that she was asked to give the speech to the incoming freshmen in front of thousands of people.” After transferring from Old Dominion after her sophomore year, Murray has collected 747 minutes on the field with appearances in all 20 games this season.
Senior Julie Rodijk is a defensive player that originated from the Netherlands but has played at UAlbany her entire college career. She has started and played in all 20 games this season with 1,233 minutes played and has served as the only defensive player to tally offensive points with three goals and one assist. Rodijk is known by Sykes as being “ one of the hardest workers on our team at every practice and every game.” She’s known for her speed and endurance on the field and played 1,304 minutes this season.
Senior Stephanie Moncavage is known not only for her “incredible field hockey skills” says Coach Sykes, but as an extremely positive person in the darkest situation. She always has a bright smile on her face and Coach Sykes proclaims that she is one of the funniest people he’s ever had on the team. This fun-loving player has appeared in all 20 games with 18 starts and has totaled 752 minutes on the field.
These players have truly left their mark on UAlbany’s field hockey program during their time here and they will clearly be missed by coaching staff and teammates alike. Although they graduate from UAlbany, they will always have a place on this team.
Photo Credit: Valmaria Strobel/UAlbany Athletics
Captain Elaina Burchell dribbles the ball during a game against Penn State.
Hopes for next year’s season are “sky high,” according to Coach Sykes. With returning players and new recruits coming in, the potential for UAlbany’s field hockey team is yet to be realized but is expected to fiercely uphold their standard as a top northeastern team in the 2023 season.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and we’ll add new recruits which we do every year and try and get them assimilated with the group as soon as possible,” Sykes said. “Just to see where the potential of the team can go and I think with who’s returning and who’s coming in, I think the sky could be very high.”