Field Hockey: Notre Dame aims to take back the Inter-Ac

Notre Dame wouldn’t mind seeing this scene duplicate itself this year.                                                                                               (Courtesy of ndapa.org)

Win some, lose some.

That’s the way it went for the Academy of Notre Dame a year ago. Head coach Adele Williams‘ squad was unable to defend its Inter-Ac championship for the fifth straight year, instead relinquishing the league crown to archrival Episcopal Academy after losing to the Churchmen, 3-2, in the regular season.

The Irish got the last laugh later on, though, when they took out EA, 2-0, in the inaugural Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament final. While it wasn’t another piece of Inter-Ac history to add to ND’s prestigious field hockey history, the Irish were just fine with taking home the first postseason title ever awarded by the PAISSA.

But they’d like the Inter-Ac back, and there are plenty of reasons for Williams to feel confident about her team this year. If the 2012 version of the Irish will be anything, explosive might be the best word. There’s enough talent out on the forward and midfield lines to provide consistent pressure and headaches for opposing defenses. It starts, of course, with two-time All-Delco selection Moira Putsch. The junior, ranked among the nation’s elite recruits for the 2014 class, is as good as it gets, and with her being healthy again after she battled an ACL tear a year ago, the sky’s the limit for what she can bring to the table.

“Having Moira healthy from the start is a plus,” Williams said. “We’ve gotten a glimpse of what she can do not at 100 percent after last year and after all the stuff she did in the summer this year. I’m not going to jinx it, but from what we’ve seen, I think she can have a pretty good year.”

Putsch, who already has 41 goals and 20 assists in her two-year career, will be able to stretch defenses even thinner as she gets closer to regaining all of her speed. By the time she’s done at Notre Dame, there’s little doubt that she will threaten the Delco and school records for goals in a season and goals in a career.

But she’s not alone. Far from it, actually. Fellow All-Delco Emily Faught, a senior midfielder who has verbally committed to the University of Virginia, is an exceptional two-way force who’s as much of a threat to score as she is to shut down the opponent’s best scorer. A year ago, she found the back of the cage 17 times and added 17 assists, and though she might find herself paying a bit more attention to defense this year, there’s little doubt that she remains a real threat to score at all times.

“She’s our quiet leader,” Williams said. “She’ll be at center mid for us, and she’s going to basically direct things. We expect good things from her. Her and Nora McCallion were just voted our co-captains.”

McCallion, who recently committed to Saint Joseph’s University to continue her lacrosse career, is less flashy than Putsch or Faught, but she’s effective at what she does. The senior midfielder’s role should expand a bit this year, too. ND will also have another big scoring threat in the form of sophomore Taylor Leonhardt, who last year showed the ability to mesh well with Putsch.

The biggest issue, though, is finding a suitable replacement for 2011 Daily Times Player of the Year Emily Fuss. The Dickinson freshman was superb last year, nearly registering more shutouts (13) than goals allowed (15). It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to put up those types of numbers again, but Williams likes what she sees out of her starter, sophomore Gabby Carlini. It will take time for Carlini to adjust to the varsity pace of play, especially with a tough nonleague slate right off the bat, but she has shown signs of progress.

“Our defense is going to have to be strong until she gets the confidence,” Williams said. “But she’s come a long way. She’s done everything we’ve asked of her – extra sessions, one-on-one sessions – and you can definitely see the difference.

That defense in front of Carlini is also expected to feature the likes of sophomores Sophie Graeff and Kirsten Mansfield in addition to senior Nina Diamond. Both Mansfield and Diamond enjoyed fair amounts of individual success last year, and Graess is projected to make a big leap for the Irish.

“She played JV last year,” Williams said. “But she’s a player that can play anywhere for us. She can line up at midfield or defense.”

EA, of course, won’t relinquish its title without a fight. Williams said she expects the Churchmen to be ND’s biggest competition for the league championship, and most think it wouldn’t be surprising to see the two battle it out again for the league championship and the PAISSA title.

With the types of games those two teams played last year, there are definitely worse alternatives out there.

– MATT CHANDIK

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