Smith has earned NE10 Player of the Week honors twice this fall and is among NE10 and NCAA Division II scoring leaders once again (PHOTO BY Andrew Katsampes)
BY Jim Fenton
The Stonehill College field hockey team reported to training camp last month with reason for optimism.
The Skyhawks returned seven starters, including national Division 2 player of the year Kacie Smith, after going 13-7, finishing second in the Northeast-10 Conference with a 10-2 record and reaching the NCAA Division 2 tournament for a fifth straight season.
Four games into the season, Stonehill is sitting in sole possession of the No. 2 spot in this week's National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll. The Skyhawks (3-1) received one first-place vote and trail only Shippensburg (3-0), which has won the past two national titles.
Two of Stonehill's wins have come against teams currently ranked third and fourth in the nation, East Stroudsburg (1-0) and West Chester (2-1).
After playing four non-conference games, Stonehill opens the NE-10 schedule on Saturday afternoon at eighth-ranked Assumption College, which handed the Skyhawks their only loss on Sept. 4. Stonehill was the preseason pick to win the conference in the coaches poll.
Freedman backbones a much improved defensive backfield for the Skyhawks. (PHOTO BY Andrew Katsampes)
"It's great (being ranked second),″ coach Susan Ciufo said. "We came out in our first game against West Chester and to win that game, you could see (the team) was excited, but they were, 'Are we really good?' To go out and beat (East Stroudsburg), that was the first game when they realized we have something special here.
"Hopefully we can continue to build off of it. We still have a lot of work to do and it's a really long season, but we're in a really good place right now. Now it's just sustaining it.″
Smith has six goals and three assists for 15 points in her first four games after setting the national Division 2 record with 41 goals and adding 17 assists a year ago.
The senior led all divisions in goals and points, setting an NE-10 record with 99 points.
"She's starting off on a really good note,″ Ciufo said, who starts three or four freshmen a game. "She's not letting last year affect her mental state this year. She had a phenomenal year last year, but I think the goals in place this year are a little bit bigger. That's the exciting part.
"Every game for the past two games she's gotten pretty heavily marked. We're focused on making sure others around her can score and how we can get her open.″