At the beginning of the season, Boston University field hockey coach Sally Starr started the Terriers with a goal: make the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
The next step in the Terriers’ quest for an NCAA bid is an America East Tournament title. With the top-seeded University at Albany (10-9, 4-1 AE) on tap for the semifinal matchup this afternoon, Starr and the fourth-seeded Terriers are on the precipice of their fourth consecutive conference title.
‘[At Albany], we are looking for a great opportunity to compete for another conference championship,’ Starr said. ‘It is a great matchup against an excellent team.’
Heading into this weekend, the Terriers (10-9, 3-2) will play their first semifinal game without being the top-ranked team in the conference since carrying a No. 4 seed in 2003.
Sitting at No. 4 again this season, BU will face Albany for the second time in two weeks, as it ventured to New York’s capital on Oct. 25.
‘We’re ranked lower than first this year, and [Albany] has played some great games against some great opponents,’ Starr said. ‘We have the opportunity to play the No. 1 seed and give them a game.’
Losing just its second game in conference play this year by a score of 1-0 at Albany two weekends ago, BU will be looking to capitalize on a number of scoring chances left untapped the last time they were there.
Working in the Terriers’ favor, surprisingly, is the team’s comfort level away from home.
‘The girls are definitely excited,’ Starr said about her team traveling for the third weekend in a row. ‘They are comfortable. They like this venue and they like the feel. We were here two weeks ago, so the timing is perfect. We’re not playing at home, but we’re excited about the opportunity.’
Standing in the Terriers’ way of their trip to the conference championship game is Albany junior forward Nicole Savage.
Savage, who rattled off three shots on newly named America East Goalkeeper of the Year Kim Kastuk earlier this season, leads a Great Dane front focused on speed and transition.
‘They have an excellent offense,’ Starr said. ‘Savage has been outstanding for them. They have a lot of speed, good transition and are able to score.’
Once the Great Danes establish themselves in the offensive zone, their most potent attacking scheme comes from their penalty corner play.
The lone goal scored in the last meeting between BU and Albany came off a set corner, as Michelle Simpson found Michele Polizois for the go-ahead goal with less than three minutes to play.
‘Simpson is a very good defender, and they have a senior goalie who has done well,’ Starr said. ‘We need to limit their attack penalty corners. We have to limit the number of chances we give them because that’s been a strength for them all this year.’
Working against the Terriers today will be their inexperience, given that more than half of the players have never played in an America East Tournament game.
With 10 freshmen on the roster, Starr said tri-captains Hayly Ross, Holly Wiles and Lizzie Perreault have kept the underclassmen on track and focused on playing their game.
‘I think we, as a team and as a program, make every practice and game as equally important,’ Starr said. ‘We’re just coming out to play a hockey game. You can’t allow yourself to be distracted. We control what we can control, and that’s what we have done all year.’