Two months before the start of the season, life threw the Boston University field hockey team a curveball. In June, the team learned it would not have access to its home venue, New Balance Field, for the season due to renovations.
The Terriers’ home games and practices were shifted to Harvard University’s Athletic Complex in Allston and Boston College’s facilities in Newton, and the team was forced into a morning practice schedule. As a result, players suddenly had to change their class schedules and now have to hop on a bus that leaves for practice as early as 7:15 a.m.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” head coach Sally Starr said. “If I didn’t have the seniors’ buy-in for that, I don’t think we’d be where we are now.”
On the field, though, the veteran-led Terriers (7-6, 4-0 Patriot League) have shown little wear. BU has battled to an undefeated conference record and first-place position in the PL with four games to go in the regular season.
“The van rides in the morning are fun. They listen to music, they sing together. They’re creating new team memories,” Starr said. “A big part of our success this year is everybody looking in the same direction.”
Strong team culture at the core of turnaround
BU’s recent success follows a disappointing 2021 campaign when the team posted a 4-14 record and missed the PL Tournament.
Starr attributes much of the improvement to the team’s off-the-field bond and team culture, which has been their main focus since the team began to prepare for the season in January and February.
“All eyes are pointing in the right direction, and they’re a group that love each other,” she said. “They enjoy being together, they push each other, they challenge each other.”
One source of inspiration has been the team’s core values — joy, passion, integrity and selflessness. Starr also had the team read Jerry Lynch’s book “The Way of The Champion,” which focuses on the importance of a team unit and being a good teammate.
“Locker room is as important as what you’re doing on the field,” Starr said.
Csejka emerges as breakout star
Junior forward Tess Csejka scored just once last season — in the Terriers’ season finale against the College of the Holy Cross. A year later, Csejka is BU’s leading goal-scorer with seven and an indispensable piece to the team’s offensive production.
“We knew that she was a special athlete, a special player,” Starr said. “Also a great teammate, a great Terrier.”
Starr called the pandemic-riddled 2020 season, Csejka’s freshman year, a “setback.”
“They spent more time in quarantine than on a hockey field that spring and that fall we could only have small group practices. We didn’t compete that fall,” Starr said. “I think that her sophomore year would have been more like her junior year if we didn’t have COVID.”
Starr notches historic accomplishment
When BU defeated Holy Cross 3-0 on Sept. 24, Starr cemented her spot in NCAA field hockey history by becoming the sixth Division I coach to record 500 career wins.
Starr, in her 41st season coaching the Terriers, is the longest-tenured coach in the history of BU Athletics. She also ranks fifth all-time in wins by a Division I field hockey coach with 503.
“It’s an accomplishment more for the program than for me. It’s all the athletes that have created all those wins,” Starr said. “And it’s a tribute to Boston University field hockey to, over the years, be a very successful program.”
Eyes on the prize
The Terriers have clinched a berth in the PL Tournament and have an opportunity to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in their remaining four games.
Starr also noted that BU will no longer have to play on back-to-back days for the remainder of the regular season, which is one advantage that the Terriers will enjoy in the stretch of the campaign.
“I think it’s a special group,” Starr said. “We are really enjoying coaching them and I’m really looking forward to what they’re able to accomplish.”
The Terriers will next face off against Lafayette College (4-10, 0-3 PL) Saturday at 12 p.m. in Easton, Pennsylvania.