Aug. 25, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - A new era begins this weekend as the Miami field hockey team takes the pitch for the first time in 2011. Under the direction of new head coach Iñako Puzo, the RedHawks travel to Indiana for a 4 p.m. game on Friday. Miami will then return to Oxford for the home opener on Sunday against Northwestern. Game time is scheduled for noon at the Miami Field Hockey Turf.
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The RedHawks return 12 letterwinners from a team that went 14-7 last season and 8-2 in the MAC. They tied with Kent State for the regular-season title, their first MAC championship since field hockey began its current format in 1984. Puzo has high hopes that the team can maintain its recent run of success.
"I think the team will come together at some point this season," said Puzo. "I'm not expecting the high point to be at the beginning, but more towards the second half of the year. That is when they will understand each other a little better, they'll understand more of what the coaching staff expects of them and they understand the level of hockey that we want to play. I don't want to talk about wins or losses; I don't want to talk about winning the MAC or going to the NCAA Tournament yet. What this team needs is to just focus on itself, take one game at a time and look at the improvement from game-to-game. The results will then take care of themselves."
Miami has been working hard in preseason practice as it looks to gel its 12 returners with a class of six freshmen eager for their first chance to see game action.
"Preseason is going well so far," said Puzo. "This team is still looking for its identity, but all of the players have come back in better shape than they were in the spring. The freshmen class has especially been impressive. They have enough talent to make some big contributions to this team. With all of the returning players looking to hold onto their spots, it has created a competitive but healthy environment."
Indiana will be a challenging opening opponent for the RedHawks. The Hoosiers were 9-9 last season, and defeated Miami, 2-1, on Sept. 17, 2010 in Oxford. Emily Gruesser scored the goal for the RedHawks. Indiana returns 13 letterwinners from last year's team, including leading scorer, senior Brenna Moeljadi (six goals and four assists in 2010). The Hoosiers played two exhibition games during the preseason, falling to Ohio State, 1-0 on Aug. 17 and defeating Ball State, 11-2, on Aug. 20.
Northwestern is coming off a year in which it went 11-9 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats star player is junior Chelsea Armstrong, who was among the national leaders in scoring in 2010 with 24 goals and 12 assists. Northwestern scored off a penalty corner with only 1:43 remaining to defeat Miami, 2-1, in their last meeting on Sept. 19, 2010. Kylie Landeros scored in that match for the RedHawks.
"We start with two strong Big Ten teams," commented Puzo. "It is a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves. Yes we do want to win, but more importantly, we want to see where we are and what we need to fix for the future. It will be a great release for the players and the coaches to finally go out and play. We didn't have an exhibition game this year so this is the first opportunity for us to measure ourselves against another squad."
These two teams help make up one of the strongest non-conference schedules that Miami has ever played. A majority of those talented teams will be making the trip into Oxford. The RedHawks will host three more teams from the Big Ten, taking on Michigan State (Sept. 11), Michigan (Sept. 24) and Ohio State (Oct. 18). Perennial power Virginia, Puzo's former team, will make the trip to face Miami on Sept. 9.
"It's a strong schedule with several Big Ten teams as well as Virginia on it," said Puzo. "In fact, with the game against the Cavaliers on Sept. 9 and a game against Ohio State on Oct. 18, we have two of the four national semifinalists from last year coming to play us in Oxford. It is a real positive for the program to keep a strong schedule that challenges the players and coaches, and makes it attractive for fans to come to the field and see some of the top teams in Division I."
All of this will lead into another challenging 10-game MAC schedule. The preseason poll came out on Tuesday, with Kent State being picked to win the league, Miami finishing second and Ohio placing third. All three of the teams received two first place votes to win the league.
"It will be another interesting year in the MAC. We are expecting that everyone is coming in stronger than last year. I don't want to talk about who the favorite is; it is too early for that. You have to show how good you are on the field, not in the preseason polls. While I am new to the league, I do know the coaches in the MAC, and I know they will get their teams playing to the best of their abilities."
Miami will head to the East Coast next weekend. The RedHawks will travel to Monmouth on Friday, Sept. 2 for a 3:30 p.m. game. They will then move on to Rutgers for a contest on Sunday, Sept. 4 at noon.