Liberty opens its season on Friday at home versus Saint Joseph's. Game time is slated for 2 p.m. at Liberty Field Hockey Field.
Despite being the youngest member of the NorPac Conference and one of the youngest field hockey programs in the country, Liberty has high expectations entering the 2013 season. The Lady Flames return an experienced group of players, including 10 starters and three players who earned postseason awards. "Looking at this season, we definitely come into it with high expectations and high hopes for another great year," stated third-year head coach Jodi Murphy. "Like last year, the girls have set great goals and they want to continue to make a name for themselves and become a program that breaks into the Top 25. As we've been building this program, we've always said that we don't want to take 10 years to reach national prominence, but rather that our first recruiting class will graduate having had some real success."
Competing in just its second season as a program, the Lady Flames posted a 16-6 record in 2012. In its inaugural season in the NorPac, Liberty posted a 7-1 conference mark and captured the East Division title on the final day of the regular season. The Lady Flames rode a six-game winning streak into the NorPac Tournament and stretched that streak to eight victories after wins over Pacific and Davidson in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. Liberty squared off against nationally ranked Stanford in the title game, becoming just the second East Division team to reach the tournament's final game.
"Last season, the biggest thing that we learned was how to become students of the game, how to take each week as it comes and how to learn from each game and each opponent that we faced," Murphy continued. "I also really appreciated how much the girls fought to get the Liberty name into the Division I field hockey community and to gain some recognition."
Liberty once again has its focus on reaching the NorPac title game in 2013, and a tougher schedule should help prepare the squad to do just that. The Lady Flames will take to the road 11 times this season, including matchups with NorPac West Division foe California (Sept. 8) and preseason No. 18 Wake Forest (Sept. 13). Liberty's seven-game home schedule is highlighted by a Sept. 29 contest versus preseason No. 7 Virginia.
"Playing the likes of a Wake Forest and a Virginia will help the girls train at an even higher level," said Murphy. "We'll be able to see the way these top programs play and the pace they play at, which hopefully will improve our training."
Liberty will serve as the hosts of this season's NorPac Tournament, which will run from Nov. 7-9. This year's tournament champion will face off against the Atlantic 10 Tournament winner in a NCAA tournament play-in game.
A look at the Lady Flames by position: Forward: Liberty returns a trio of standout players on its forward line. NorPac East Division Offensive Player of the Year Natalie Barr, NorPac Rookie of the Year Sarah Gipe and NorPac All-Conference performer Abbey Basom are all back to anchor the forward position.
"We are very excited to return a group of players on our forward line who scored a lot of points for us last season," stated Murphy. "With Natalie earning the awards that she did last season, we certainly have high expectations for her this year. We're looking for her to produce big results once again. Abbey is a player who we think will continue to develop into one of the marquee forwards in the conference."
Barr paced the Lady Flames with 40 points on 16 goals and eight assists in 2012. The Lurgan, Northern Ireland native's point and goal totals ranked her first nationally among freshmen. Gipe finished second on the team with 28 points (13 goals, 2 assists), while Basom finished third on the squad with 22 points (8 goals, 6 assists) last season.
Sophomores Morgan Mummau and Jackie Albert provide Murphy with speed on the outside. Senior Jordan Richardson and sophomore Hannah Doherty also saw valuable minutes last season at forward. Doherty paced the midfield line with 17 points (7 goals, 3 assists) in 2012, while Richardson chipped in with four assists. Adding depth to the forward line are juniors Mercedes Cox, Alex Hibbs, Nicole Simms, Lindsey Hanks and Abby Batdorf and sophomore Hannah Goldsborough.
Sophomore Ashlee Krulock will see action on both the forward and midfield lines. "We believe that Ashlee can be a finisher for us, so we'll be looking for her to wear two hats this season," commented Murphy.
Midfield: Anchoring the midfield line for the Lady Flames will be senior Micailah Sloman, junior Helen Doolittle and sophomore Erin Dombach. That trio, along with freshman Bethany Barr, gives Coach Murphy experience, poise and speed in the midfield.
"Micailah comes to us from South Africa with a wealth of experience, great knowledge of the game and a positive attitude," mentioned Murphy. "We'll use Helen as a defensive center mid and rely on her as a player that can control tempo in the middle of the field. Erin's speed on the outside was one of our greatest strengths last season and is something that we feel will once again be a strength for the team. Despite being a new player, Bethany has tremendous poise with the ball and has great tackling and decision-making skills."
Doolittle contributed 11 points (4 goals, 3 assists) and, along with Dombach and Krulock, started every game last season.
Also competing for time at midfield this year will be freshmen Ketura Landis and Carrie Logie.
Defense: In the backfield, junior Megan Johnson and sophomore Hannah Jones headline Murphy's defensive unit. "Both Megan and Hannah earned valuable minutes for us last fall and were a big part of our defensive success," commented Murphy.
Freshman Serena Barr and sophomore Erin Bartley will also see significant playing time on defense for the Lady Flames. "Serena is a really good distributer who makes really smart decisions and has the ability to attack when it is the right time," stated Murphy. "Erin put in a lot of work in the offseason and that showed in her development this preseason."
Adding depth on defense will be sophomore Elly Chipman and freshman Olivia Carroll.
Goalkeeper:After redshirting last season to focus on academics, Ann Jefferis returns for her senior season in goal. Jefferis started every game in Liberty's inaugural 2011 season and earned NFHCA All-Region recognition.
"Ann is someone who has a presence and poise in the goal," mentioned Murphy. "She has great maturity and understanding of the game, which our defense will feed off of each game. She is a veteran who we will look to steady our defense and be a calming presence."
Backing up Jefferis will be sophomore Mallory Cuccio, who started the final 13 games of the season last year. Cuccio earned an 11-2 record as a starter and posted four shutouts. Her 1.01 goals-against average ranked the Colorado Springs, Colorado native first in the nation.
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