WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — Following a second consecutive 10-win season and a 5-5 mark in what is inarguably the deepest conference in the country, the Williams College field hockey team finds itself ranked No. 19 in the NFHCA Preseason Top 20 poll.
Despite that honor, Ephs' head coach Alix Barrale, back for her 18th season at the helm of the program, understands how much work needs to be done in order for her squad to realize its' goals.
"We're focused on taking one day at a time, one practice at a time, instead of looking too far ahead," she said. "I think we're all on the same page in that we understand what we do leading up to game day is what will show up on game day. I hope they can focus on the journey instead of the result."
Barrale has a roster of 24 with 16 players from the 2016 team which finished 10-7 overall. The team will be led by four seniors, starting with co-captains Alex Bennett and Hannah Goodrick and including Julianna Kostas and Priya Sivalingam.
"I think Alex and Hannah are going to be outstanding leaders, they have already made an impact on and off the field," Barrale said. "I think the senior class as a whole is going to make this year a special one."
Barrale also has a roster full of five juniors and eight sophomores, in addition to her six first-years. It gives her a wealth of experience to draw from.
"As much as we have returning, we are still a fairly young group, so communication will be a big factor," Barrale said. "We need to get everybody on the same page in a short amount of time. We're changing our formation based on the personnel, to best utilize the people we have here now. I think one of our strengths will be our depth, but it really is a matter of staying healthy. If we can stay healthy, I see a lot of people contributing. The way people contribute may change depending on who our opponent is that day."
The good news for Barrale and company is that, among the returners, are six of the Ephs' eight top scorers from 2016. That includes Bennett, who despite missing the final six games of the season with an injury, led Williams with 25 points and nine goals. Fellow captain Goodrick also had a stellar season, placing third on the team with 16 points (6 goals, 4 assists). Junior midfielder Meredith Wright also had six goals, adding two assists to finish fourth on the squad with 14 points. In addition, junior forward Libby Dolan also had six goals. Julia Cochran and Isabel Perry are also among the top scorers group who return.
The not-so-great news for Barrale is there is only one starting player returning in the back, junior Caroline Taverna. Silvalingam could be a starter in the back and Barrale has plenty of strong candidates, including sophomores Emma Ticknor, Marissa Feller and Calla Khilnani. Sophomore Charlotte Cooper could also see time there but is currently rehabbing from an injury. Sophomores Kami Cisneros and Nina McGowan will bolster the midfield potentially while goalkeeper Abby Lloyd is competing with junior Emma Santucci for the starting role. Barrale said early on in the season the pair may split time in the cage.
The six first-years expected to compete for playing time are Olivia Dulany (goalkeeper), forward-midfielder Molly Lohss, forwards Payton Donato and Simone Veale, and defenders Allie Weiner and Abby Yu.
"It's a decent size class with a lot of potential," Barrale noted. "I could see a scenario where a few of them earn some playing time this season."
Of course, taking a step forward in the NESCAC standings will be a challenge. Tufts won the conference last season and advanced to the national championship game, falling 1-0 to Messiah. Trinity, Hamilton and Middlebury all finished with over .650 winning percentage.
"Obviously we play in an incredibly competitive conference from top to bottom," Barrale said. "I think every team is capable of winning the conference. We're not going to take anyone lightly. We're more focused on the journey than the result. The results will take care of themselves."