2012 Outlook: Championship Defense Begins, as does 40th Anniversary Celebration

The Yale field hockey huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
The Yale field hockey huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Bulldogs Return Four All-Ivy Selections to Help with Title Defense

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Yale field hockey team enters 2012 as defending Ivy League champions, a position the Bulldogs have not been in for 31 years. It is a fitting way to frame a historic season, as the team celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first varsity field hockey team at Yale.

Head coach Pam Stuper, the 2009 NFHCA Mideast Region Coach of the Year, enters her eighth season at Yale having seen the Bulldogs increase their season goal total each year for six straight years. Last year's squad scored 69 times, a school record. The Bulldogs have lost six players from that team to graduation, including four of the top six scorers. But they return 11 letterwinners, including six players who started seven or more games and four who earned All-Ivy League recognition.

Among those returnees are four seniors who have a chance to make history as the first Yale class to be a part of four double-digit win seasons. Their freshman season, 2009, saw the Bulldogs establish the school record for wins in Ivy League play with six, earn votes in the national poll, and finish with a 12-5 overall record. The success continued with identical 11-6 overall records in each of the past two seasons. After finishing in second place in the Ivy League in 2009 and 2010, the Bulldogs finally broke through to claim a share of the title last season, as both Yale and Princeton finished 6-1 in the league.

Here is a position-by-position look at the team heading into the 2012 season, which starts Aug. 31 at Fairfield:



The lone senior forward, Maddy Sharp, was elected captain by her teammates. Sharp's scoring touch has developed throughout her career, as her point total has increased each year -- from six to eight to 10. She has missed just one game in the past two years.

Junior forward Gabby Garcia emerged as a pleasant surprise last season. She made the transition from back to forward smoothly and played in all 17 games. A former all-state selection in high school, she scored her first career goal in the sixth game of the season and finished the year with four. Classmate Brooke Gogel remains unable to play due to injury, but will continue to contribute to the program as a manager.

The lone sophomore forward, Jessie Accurso, displayed great athleticism and speed while appearing in all 17 games last season. She had a pair of goals and an assist. The freshman class includes Sakshi Kumar (Hong Kong). Kumar brings the Bulldogs international experience -- she has played on the Under-18 and Under-21 national teams for Hong Kong -- and she won a league championship with Valley RFC in addition to captaining her high school team (South Island School).

The freshman class also includes Danee Fitzgerald (Rockville, Md.), a USA Field Hockey Futures participant who captained her team at Rockville and led the team in goals for three straight seasons. She also captained her club team, NIT. Nicole Wells (Bryn Mawr, Pa.), also a USA Field Hockey Futures participant, was team captain and MVP at the Baldwin School and also played for X-Calibur Knights, finishing first in A Pool at the National Indoor Tournament in 2012. Her team also won gold in the National Festival A Pool in each of the past two seasons.



Senior Mary Beth Barham provides leadership for Yale's midfield group, as she is coming off a 2011 season that saw her earn All-Ivy League recognition for the second time (second team as a junior, honorable mention as a freshman). Barham has the ability to be an offensive catalyst, having racked up six goals and six assists over the past two seasons while starting all but one game.

Junior Erica Borgo has already made an impact on the Yale record book, setting the school mark for assists last season and finishing second in the country in assists per game (17 in 17 games). She is sixth on Yale's career assists list with 24, and has earned All-Ivy recognition in each of her first two seasons (second team as a freshman, first team as a sophomore). Borgo has also attracted the attention of USA Field Hockey, earning a spot with the North team at the National Championship this past summer. Her skills include speed on attack and inserting ability on penalty corners.

Classmate Georgia Holland can play either midfield or back, and her ability to contribute at both ends of the field helped earn her a unanimous first team All-Ivy League selection last year after being second team All-Ivy (and Rookie of the Year) as a freshman. In addition to tying for second on the team with nine goals, Holland led the team with three defensive saves and tied for third on the team with 22 points. After taking part in USA Field Hockey's National Championship, Holland has been selected to the U.S. Under-21 squad and has a chance to represent her country at the Junior Pan American Championship this September in Mexico.

Borgo and Holland have started every game each of the past two seasons; their classmate Emily Schuckert has 24 starts over that same span, including all 17 last year. "Schucks", who can play forward in addition to midfield, finds ways to contribute in each game. That included scoring both of her goals last season against Yale's biggest rival, Harvard, in a 5-1 win. She was third on the team in assists with seven and earned the team's Coaches Award, given to the player who exemplifies principles, direction and persistence in pursuit of field hockey excellence at Yale.

Freshman Noelle Villa (Green Brook, N.J.), a USA Field Hockey Futures participant, has been a part of winning teams wherever she has played. In addition to helping Oak Knoll to a fourth straight county championship and the No. 1 ranking in the country last season, she has won gold medals at the National Field Hockey Festival three times. Wells may also see time in the midfield.



Senior Lexy Adams appeared in a career-high 17 games last season and is now Yale's most experienced back. She is also the only one with a goal, as she took advantage of a brief appearance as a forward during her freshman year to score.

There are no pure backs in the junior class, so the Yale defense will look for significant backfield contributions from a pair of talented sophomores. Megan Kirkham, who has been a part of the Canadian Junior National Team Training Squad, appeared in all 17 games for the Bulldogs last season. Grace McInerney, a USA Field Hockey Futures participant, had her season end prematurely due to an injury after seven games.

Freshman Molly Wolf (Endwell, N.Y.) took part in the Junior Olympics for USA Field Hockey in 2010 and was a regional All-American for Maine-Endwell last season. A two-time all-state pick and part of four straight Section IV championships, she also played for CNY. Villa may see time in the backfield as well.



All three goalies who saw action last year return, making this a position of strength for the Bulldogs. In addition to helping the team to an Ivy League title, this group combined for three shutouts.

Senior Ona McConnell has appeared in five games for her career, a number made all the more impressive by the fact that she has been playing through myotonic dystrophy -- a form of muscular dystrophy that she was diagnosed with as a freshman. She is the inspiration behind the team's "Get a Grip" campaign for the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation, and for each of the past two years she has won Yale's Amanda Walton Award, given by the players and coaching staff to that team member who demonstrates the ability to confront challenges, displaying the courage to overcome them, while inspiring teammates with her work ethic and unselfish attitude.

After being sidelined by an injury for much of her freshman season, junior Emily Cain showed what she was capable of last season when she was able to start all 17 games. She led the Ivy League in goals-against average (1.84) and was third in save percentage (.752), earning second team All-Ivy League honors.

Sophomore Heather Schlesier got her feet wet last season, appearing in seven games and allowing only one goal in 70:04 while making five saves. She received Yale's Senior Award, given by the senior class to a freshman team member who reflects positive contribution to the team's philosophy and whose individual character encourages the future direction and excellence of Yale Field Hockey.



The 17-game slate for Yale starts at in-state rival Fairfield on Friday Aug. 31.  The home opener is Sunday Sept. 2 vs. another in-state rival, Quinnipiac, at Johnson Field. That game also marks the kickoff of Yale's "Get a Grip" campaign for the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation in honor of Ona McConnell. As in years past, the Bulldogs are accepting pledges for the foundation based on the number of goals they score this season.

In addition to the seven Ivy League games -- starting at Harvard on Sept. 15 -- the Bulldogs have 10 non-league games. Overall there are seven teams on the schedule that were ranked or received votes in the final 2011 national poll, and three that took part in the NCAA Tournament. Alumnae Day, when the Bulldogs formally celebrate their 40th anniversary, is Oct. 20 vs. Penn. Senior Day at Johnson Field is Oct. 28 vs. BU, and the regular season concludes Nov. 3 at Brown.

Live stats of every home game will be available on yalebulldogs.com.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity