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Hitting Their Stride, Field Hockey Team Setting Records This Season


y Caitlin Murray

As they waited for the bus to take them to their next match at Smith College, the women of the MIT field hockey team seemed more optimistic than called for on a rainy Monday morning. But on a trek to their best season in 10 years, the Engineers have every right to be happy. The trouncing they give Smith that afternoon was just another in what has become the norm for this team.

“I think we finally clicked. In past years, everyone’s had a lot of individual talent, but now its all coming together,” said Noelle J. Kanaga, ’06. Kanaga’s talent and charisma make her a natural leader of this team, along with her co-captain Deanna M. Lentz ’06, who is third place in the MIT record books for career points.

Alexa C. Herman ’08, the team’s starting goalkeeper, summed it up in a few words, “Everyone’s just meshing well.”

Their coach, Cheryl Silva, has a history of successful seasons, leading her teams to six consecutive double-digit-win seasons in the mid-nineties. However, her recent history has been less stellar. Between 1999 and 2002, the Engineers could not manage more than five wins each season.

But now it looks like Silva is bringing them back. From a low point in 2001, when they finished the season with a 4-10 record, the wins have steadily accumulated. Last season, they broke double digits in the wins column for the first time since ’98 with a 10-7 final record for the season. Now, with three regular season games remaining, the Engineers have already shattered last year’s record with 11 wins and just three losses.

They have out-hustled, out-shot, and out-scored nearly every team they have met. The statistics speak for themselves. The Engineers have 45 goals to their opponents’ 25, 165 shots on goal to their opponents’ 59, and, most importantly, 11 wins to their opponents’ three.

What is most striking about their success is how evenly the talent is distributed. With five players who have each scored more than six goals and 10 who each have at least one score, this is a team that does not rely on superstar power.

Anna E. Ayuso ’07 is about as close as one gets to a superstar. A tall, gangly Course Sixer, she grinned sheepishly when her teammates bragged about her, applying the term “superstar” to her without hesitation. Ayuso can be relied upon to get things done. Leading the team in both goals and assists, Ayuso broke a long-standing MIT record this season in an astonishing game against Regis College.

The game itself was the highlight of the season so far. After smashing a 20-year-old record by scoring six goals in the first half, the Engineers went on to win 9-1. Ayuso raked in nine points over the course of the game, with eight shots, four goals, and one assist, making her the first to score that many goals in a game since 1992. (Goals are worth two points and assists one.)

Other players also contributed significantly to the team’s success this season. Lauren M. Nowierski ’06 is tied with Ayuso in goals scored. Halfback Cheryl A. Texin ’06, who Silva has called the team’s quarterback, has seven goals and three assists. Midfielder Janet J. Pan ’09 looks to be significant in the years to come, with three goals and three assists this year.

Barring the nightmare scenario in which they are shut-out in all three remaining games, this team will easily go into the record book for the most goals per game scored by an MIT field hockey team since the program’s inception.

Despite appearances, the team is not just an offensive juggernaut. The defense is also strong, having managed to keep opposing teams to an average of just nine shots per game, compared to MIT’s 22. Sharon M. Prange ’07 and Katherine M. Boothe ’09, who has started every game this season, were significant in the defensive effort, along with Herman, who has 64 saves on the season.

Student athletes at MIT encounter challenges juggling academics and athletics that no other school provides. The teammates, though they acknowledge the difficulty, make no excuses. When asked about the challenges of the schedule, Kanaga replied that they are used to it. “Everyone has been doing it since day one, so it’s not something we have to adjust for at this point.”

Herman went one step farther, saying that the demands of field hockey make her more efficient when it comes to school work. “I like it better because whenever you’re in season you just have to block out that time for field hockey so you become more efficient.”

Kanaga, Ayuso, and Herman expressed appreciation for their coach’s understanding of the academic demands. Herman added more detail, saying, “She’s always checking up, especially when you’re a freshman. Asking, are you on top of all your school work, is everything going well, how are classes…”

Silva is critical to the success of this team. This is not a case of the superstars making any team good. According to Ayuso, Silva puts a great deal of effort into strategy, planning what her players will do both in practices and in games. She also has a sense of which players are best suited for what positions on the field.

With Lentz, Kanaga, Nowierski, and Texin graduating at the end of the year, the team will be losing a significant section of their offense. Herman, however, is not worried. She praised the freshmen for their dedication to the team, adding, “They’ve been stepping up. They’re really doing a good job.”

Three games remain in the regular season. Their previous success indicates that they have the capacity to take all three, but it will not be easy.

They will be facing WPI, Springfield College, and Wellesley. WPI is ranked last in NEWMAC and does not pose much of a threat.

Wellesley on the other hand, is ranked fifth and could be a major challenge. MIT has just an 8-21 record against Wellesley over the course of their 25-year rivalry.

Even more daunting is Springfield, ranked second in the NEWMAC, whom the Engineers have never beaten in the nine years they have played each other. However, the Engineers are ready to break one more record before the season is out.