The 2003 Stanford field hockey team will be composed of an exciting blend of returning veterans and a strong freshman class. Lesley Irvine takes over the head coaching reigns from 18-year veteran Sheryl Johnson and will look to get the Cardinal back into the NCAA Tournament.
"Sheryl and I have the same philosophy so the transition has gone really smooth so far," said Irvine. "The Stanford Field Hockey program has always combined a strong desire to win with a sense of community. I plan to continue with that tradition."
With just three Division I field hockey teams in California, Stanford plays in the NorPac Conference designed exclusively for the sport with local teams California and Pacific, as well as five other schools east of the Missouri River. The winner of the conference's tournament annually hosts an NCAA Play-In Game versus the champion of another conference with the Play-In winner advancing to the 16-team NCAA Tournament field. Stanford has reached the finals of the NorPac Tournament in all five years since its inception in 1998 and has won the event but reached the NCAA Tournament only once in 2000.
"We played some great games last year but didn't come out ahead on the scoreboard as many times as we should have," said Irvine, in reference to the Cardinal outscoring (40-33) and outshooting (332-182) its opponents despite a record one game under .500 a year ago. "The focus this season will be to play well in key spots and pick up the win on the scoreboard, not just outplay our opponents."
Stanford will return six starters and nine letterwinners from last year's club that finished 10-11 overall and 4-2 in NorPac competition, while placing second in both the regular season West Division league standings and the conference tournament. However, the club must find a way to replace four graduated All-NorPac selections in Amanda Billmyer, Amrit Chima, Christina Williams and Tysie Sawyer, as well as three of its top four scorers (Billmyer, Chima, Williams).
Co-captains and forwards Noor Dawood and Keely Machmer-Wessels lead a senior class that will be expected to step up to help the Cardinal improve. Dawood is the team's active career leader in goals (12), assists (seven) and points (31), and is excepted to be one of the primary offensive threats. She started all 21 games last year, ranking tied for third on the team with 16 points (six goals, four assists) and leading the Cardinal with four game-winning goals. Machmer-Wessels contributed seven points in her first full season as a starter in 2002. Goalkeeper Emily Zander and defender Dani Guernsey give the Cardinal a couple of experienced seniors to fit into the team's defensive equation. Zander started 20 of the team's 21 games last season while splitting time in the net with Ana Kralovec, taking part in six shutouts and ranking second among NFHCA goalkeepers with a 1.65 GAA. Guernsey started 15 games on defense.
"We will rely on our senior class to take an aggressive role this season," said Irvine. "We need them to perform solidly and instill in a talented freshman group the pride of Stanford Field Hockey."
Midfielder Eleanor Morgan and forward Molly Melcher are the team's only juniors. Morgan is an exciting player who is looking forward to a breakout year after ranking fifth on the club with 10 points on a pair of goals and a co-team-leading six assists a year ago, while Melcher scored her first career goal in 2002 and appeared in 16 games off the bench.
All four of the team's sophomores made significant contributions in their rookie year of 2002 and hold promise to develop into an outstanding class. Midfielder Missy Halliday, who contributed four points on a goal and two assists while starting all 21 games last season, has already raised eyebrows and established herself as one of the top young players in the conference. Goalkeeper Ana Kralovec played in 15 games a year ago and led the team with a 1.34 GAA, taking part in all six of Stanford's shutouts while splitting time with Zander in the net. Kralovec was twice named the NorPac Rookie of the Week. Defender Tammy Shuer (17 GP/2 GS, 1 G, 2 P) and forward/midfielder Lyndsay Erickson (15 GP/1 GS, 3 A) also saw significant action.
The Cardinal hopes that an exciting and large freshman class that makes up eight of the 18 players on the team's roster will contribute immediately. Midfielder/forward Cara-Lynn Lopresti (Carmel Valley, CA/Torrey Pines HS), a member of the Under-20 National Team and a USFHA "A" camp selection leads a group that also includes a pair of other talented San Diego-area players in midfielder Shannon Donahue (San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) and defender Aska Sturdevan (Encinitas, CA/San Dieguito Academy). Midfielder/forward Katherine Brooks (Dallas, TX/Hockaday School), defender/midfielder Julia Drewes (Hockessin, DE/St. Mark's HS), midfielder/defender Jamie Hais (St. Louis, MO/John Burroughs HS), defender/midfielder Ellen Hunter (Louisville, KY/Louisville Collegiate School) and forward Liz Robinson (Alton, IL/Villa Duchesne HS) complete the rookie class.
"We're going to be a pretty young group," conceded Irvine. "We have some good players coming back, but we will need some of the players from this talented freshman class to make an immediate impact. This is a great freshman group that will really help our program. None of them lack confidence and all should contribute significantly to our program at some point."
"I want to have a very open mind about this year's personnel," continued Irvine. "We'll adjust our system based on the players we have on our roster, and will have a lot of options as to where we play people and who we play. I really believe the team will continue to develop throughout the season and will have improved tremendously by the time we finish the year."