Friday Feature: How A New Game Plan Reenergized No. 13 Babson College Field Hockey
By Matt Noonan
The 13th ranked Babson College field hockey team scored an impressive win on Tuesday evening, defeating New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) foe Wellesley College (ranked ninth in NCAA Division III) by a score of 3-0. The win snapped the Blue’s 23-game conference winning streak and provided the Beavers with their 12th consecutive victory of the season.
Babson remains undefeated heading into tomorrow’s contest against Smith College, but don’t ask head coach Julie Ryan about the team’s current winning streak. Instead, the ninth-year head coach is focused on making sure her team plays an impressive 35 minutes.
“The last thing I say to my team before they step onto the field is (play) 35 minutes,” said Ryan. “That’s our focus.”
Playing 35 minutes – the time in one half of a collegiate field hockey game – has been the rallying cry for the Beavers current success. Babson has outscored its opponents, 50-3, and claimed impressive wins against Tufts University (ranked 16th), Connecticut College and Eastern Connecticut State University.
The Beavers lead all NEWMAC squads in overall goals (50), goals per game (4.2) and assists (26). Senior Kayla Costa has enjoyed her best season between the pipes, turning away 41 shots and boasting a 0.26 goals allowed average, which ranks first in Division III.
Additionally, Costa, Bowdoin College junior Clara Belitz and Muhlenberg College sophomore Emma Rosenthal are tied for first in the nation in goals allowed, yielding a trio of markers, respectively.
Senior Elizabeth Holmes has enjoyed her best season in a Green and White uniform, tallying career-bests in goals (12), assists (11) and points (35). She has located the back of the net twice in four games, while tallying a pair of assists in three contests. Holmes leads the conference in assists and is currently in a two-way tie for second in goals with Clark University freshman Olivia Barksdale.
Additionally, the Beavers have received offensive output from juniors Kelsi McDougle and Victoria Spofford, sophomore Elise Towers and freshmen Ashley Tango and Catherine Gilman. All five players have recorded at least four goals and two assists, while Tango leads all first-year players on the roster with 19 points on eight goals and three assists.
“I think we just have a lot of people on our team that love to playing field hockey and look forward to practice,” said Costa. “We have a lot of great personalities on our team and each individual keeps our team focused in different ways.”
Babson’s impressive streak began with a 6-0 victory against Worcester State University. Three days later, the Beavers topped Endicott College, 5-0, providing their head coach with her 100th career victory at Babson.
The team’s momentum continued afterward with wins against Connecticut College (4-1), Wesleyan University (2-1) and Tufts University (3-0). Babson’s three-goal defeat of the Jumbos marked the program’s best start since 2003, while Costa registered her sixth career shutout.
“Tufts was a big pressure situation,” said Holmes. “The Jumbos (were) a high ranked team (at that point in the season), so the win showed us that we can step-up to a ranked team, but also play at that level and outperform them at that level too.”
McDougle agreed with her co-captain, saying, “Tufts was an important game for us because I think it set the standard (for the rest of our season). We played really well together and it just flowed. However, I don’t think playing-wise that was our biggest challenge because every game since (has been challenging).”
Since their visit to Medford, Babson’s winning streak has ballooned to 12 games, but the Beavers focus remains solely on playing their best 35 minutes in each half.
“35 minutes is very manageable,” said Ryan. “The season is a long season and you can get caught up looking (at our schedule) and thinking we have three bus rides in a row, we’re in midterms (during this point of the season), so it can really pile up on them.
“At halftime (of each game), we have figured out what’s working, what’s not, what changes need to be made and then we reorganize for another 35 minute (session) and I think that has really worked for us this year. In past years, it has been more like 70 solid minutes and that’s the focus, so breaking it down to 35 minute halves has been key for us because it has forced us to be able to complete games in 70 minutes.”
The ’35 minute’ mentality was something Ryan picked-up as an assistant with Boston College’s field hockey team. With the Eagles, Ryan learned through practices, games and film sessions that each player would not compete for an entire 70-minute contest, but instead during important offensive and defensive series.
“Certain players (on BC’s roster) would get five minutes in the first half or five minutes in the second half, and they needed to do their job during those five minutes,” said Ryan. “So, we have tried to adopt that (similar game-plan) this year and making sure everybody is just doing their job and accepting that role (on the team).”
Beyond the ‘35 minute’ strategy, Ryan has implemented stress-free practices, allowing her players to enjoy the sport, while working on the essential fundamentals that will be needed in games. She even surprised the team during a critical five-game stretch last month with an impromptu game of dodge ball before the team defeated Springfield College the following day.
“That Springfield game (looked) to be a big turning point for us in the season and for me, I thought a lot about it and there was nothing we needed to fix, we just needed to relax and play field hockey,” said Ryan. “So, on the Friday before Springfield at practice we walked out to the field, the team had the stone-cold face on knowing this is going to be a long two hours of practice, but we surprised the squad by tossing out dodge balls and saying, ‘pick your teams, let’s go.’
“We spent 45 minutes playing dodge ball and just getting them to laugh and compete because they love to compete, and I think for them that assisted with relaxing and knowing nothing need to be fixed. The next day we played our best game of the season.”
With seven games remaining, including a three-game stretch at Bates College, Mount Holyoke College and Wheaton College, Ryan and the Beavers will continue to focus on their ’35 minute’ strategy, but also having fun in practices and games.
Said Holmes, “I think we focus a lot on having fun, while playing hard. We’ll have music playing on the bus and we have a couple teammates that love to sing and dance, and that keeps everyone giggling and happy, but also reminds us that we’re doing this fun, so make sure you’re having fun the whole time you’re doing it.”