Coach Murphy instructs her team prior a recent scrimmage.
Instructing technique, skill, strategy and game play has certainly been on head coach Jodi Murphy's mind as the inaugural Liberty field hockey season begins on Saturday. On the other hand, the first-year head coach has also made her team aware that they are part of something special for the 2011 season, with the foundation being set for the future of the program. With a short, intense preseason, the student-athletes of Liberty's newest athletics program have been working hard since first reporting on Aug. 15. This included a unique opportunity—both on and off the field—to train for five days at the Sportsplex National Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va. As installation of the Lady Flames' new home turf continued on Liberty's Campus East, skills and a feel for the upcoming season were created. "I think a lot of the intangibles and team bonding activities are some of the biggest things that we took away. We were able to talk about traditions that we want to put into place, being this is our first season, and about our culture and how we want to be identified—on this campus and also within NCAA Division I field hockey," stated Murphy on her team's time away from Lynchburg. Since returning to campus, the squad has eagerly awaited time on their new field, but has made the most of practicing in Williams Stadium. Developing skills has remained as a focal point, but strategy and game play have jumped to the forefront as well—once again, both on and off the field. "We spent a fair amount of time this last week looking systematically at how we want to play, what our shape is, how we would like to build the ball out of the backfield and outlet." Murphy continued explaining the development of strategy, saying, "We spent a lot more time with our notebooks, talking in more of a classroom setting." While bringing a whole new group of student-athletes together quickly involves a number of challenges, Murphy has liked what she has seen and has a positive outlook for the future. "The girls' attitudes have been great. They're all eager to learn. We, as a coaching staff, are continuing to present them with information piece by piece, as we go through each practice," commented Murphy. Now with a fair share of both practice and scrimmage time in the books, the instruction from the coaching staff has begun to take form on the field, showing what each position will provide for the Lady Flames' 2011 season. Goalkeeper The most experienced position on the field for the Lady Flames will be goalkeeper, as junior transfer Ann Jefferis competed two years with Division I program Richmond. While tending the cage for the Spiders, the Harleysville, Pa., native played in 14 games and posted three shutouts. "She's coming in as an anchor to lead our defense and to lead our whole team into the Division I level," said Murphy. "Because she's had exposure to Division I field hockey before, it's really going to help set the tone and pace of our team and also our defensive unit. She's very vocal, she's very directional and a true student of the game." Defenders Moving to the backfield, Liberty's line of defense may have a young core, but at this point Murphy thinks very highly of the group. "We've got three freshmen backs and one sophomore," commented Murphy. "I think our strength right now as a team is actually in our backfield, and in our defense." After having a strong preseason, freshmen Morgan DeMann and Helen Doolittle will help lead the defense on the field. DeMann, a native of Marathon, N.Y., is a player who Murphy identifies as someone who can compete at the Division I level right out of the gates. "She came in fit. She took her summer very seriously and put in the extra hours that she needed to be able to perform at this level right from the start. I know that she's going to log a ton of minutes this season, made evident by her work rate and her character." A native of Lancaster, Pa., Doolittle comes to Liberty from a strong program at Penn Manor High School. "I'm really excited about Helen. She comes in probably as our best defender in the backfield, but has the ability and versatility to push into the attack as well. She'll be a great field general, keeping that unit intact and working of off Ann." Freshman walk-on Nicole Simms, who Murphy identifies as "a good player and very coachable," and sophomore Janelle Reist, a member of the club team in the spring, will also look to provide strong minutes on the defensive end. Midfielders In the midfield, Liberty sports fans may be familiar with a couple of faces, as lacrosse teammates Jordan Richardson and Emily Dinsmore have "been afforded the unique opportunity of playing both field hockey and lacrosse this year," as Murphy stated. The two bring an extensive field hockey background to the squad, in addition to the Division I experience from lacrosse. "They have good speed and tactical awareness. They have great vision on the ball and understand the game." Murphy continued, saying, "They also understand building a program, as they've both been a part of building lacrosse's program. They'll get lots of minutes in the midfield for us." Also playing midfield for the Lady Flames will be Taylor Swalm, who has a variety of high school and club experience. "She has a wealth of knowledge in the sport, has great club experience, U.S. Field Hockey experience, and she has real good vision in the midfield with strong distribution skills. We're looking forward to her generating our attack and being a point person for us there." According to Murphy, the outside mid will be a position where a combination of players will contest for field time. Forwards The forward line will also be one of youth for the squad, as it carries a "heavy rotation of freshmen," at the moment. However, after just a couple of weeks Murphy expressed that the group is "learning the system and getting their feet under them." "Lindsey Hanks is coming in as a really speedy, really feisty and scrappy forward. We also have Alex Hibbs who has great length in her game. If we can get her to carry the ball with speed and use her size to her advantage she'll be a nice attacking threat. Mercedes Cox is another one that is going to see a lot of minutes in the forward line, creating scoring opportunities for us."
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