Setting the Scene (Friday, Aug. 25 – 4 p.m.)
What: Monmouth (0-0, 0-0 MAAC) at Bucknell (0-0, 0-0 PL)
Where: Graham Field (Lewisburg, Pa.)
Live Stats: BucknellBison.com
Watch Live: Patriot League Network
About the Bison
* Senior Stephanie Dressler and junior Nicole Rupnik were recently voted to the Preseason All-Patriot League Team. Both players received the honor for the first time.
* Bucknell was picked to finish third in the Patriot League by a vote of the conference’s head coaches and sports information directors. The Bison have made the four-team Patriot League Tournament in each of the past nine seasons.
* The Bison went 9-9 overall and 3-3 in the Patriot League last season, earning the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.
* Rupnik and Dressler are the team’s top returning scorers. Rupnik finished with 18 points on eight goals and two assists, while Dressler tallied 14 points on five goals and four assists.
* The Penn Monto/NFHCA Division I Preseason Poll was released on Tuesday and five of the teams in the rankings are on Bucknell’s schedule. The Bison will play No. 5 Syracuse (away), No. 6 Maryland (away), No. 7 Penn State (home), No. 16 Boston University (away), and No. 21 American (away). The Bison have beaten two nationally-ranked teams in the past three seasons with a 1-0 overtime win over No. 14 Princeton in 2014 and a 3-2 overtime victory over No. 12 Albany in 2016.
* Monmouth went 17-3 overall and a perfect 6-0 in the MAAC last season. It won the MAAC Tournament and went on to lose to UMass 3-2 in the NCAA Tournament.
* The Hawks have won three straight MAAC regular season titles. They are the unanimous pick to win the title again this season.
* Julie Laszlo, who led the team with 48 points on 16 goals and 16 assists last season, was named the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year. She was joined on the Preseason All-MAAC Team by teammates Meg Donahue, Josephine van der Hoop, and Christen Piersanti.
Series History with Monmouth
* Bucknell leads the all-time series 8-3. The teams first played in 1998.
* Monmouth won 2-0 last season.
* The Bison had won the previous three meetings (2007, 2014, 2015).
* Temple went 7-12 overall and 3-4 in the Big East last season.
* The Owls were picked to finish fifth in the eight-team conference this season.
* Senior Rachael Mueller was named to the Preseason All-Big East Team. She was Second Team All-Big East last season after leading the team with 10 goals.
* Temple opens the season Friday with a home game against Saint Joseph’s
Series History with Temple
* Temple leads the all-time series 5-2. The teams first played in 2009.
* Bucknell won the first meeting 2-0 and the most recent matchup 2-1 in overtime in 2015. Emily Finn made six saves in the most recent game between the teams.
* Bucknell will play at No. 5 Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 2, and at Cornell on Sunday, Sept. 3.
2017 Season Preview
With each year, Bucknell field hockey’s consistent success in the Patriot League becomes more and more impressive. The Bison have made the four-team league tournament in nine consecutive seasons, which not coincidentally lines up with head coach Jeremy Cook’s arrival to Lewisburg. But the league has progressively become stronger over the past few seasons and the upcoming campaign could be the toughest yet to keep the streak going.
“The league schedule is so much more difficult than it used to be,” Cook said. “Teams have hired new coaches the past few years and really reenergized their programs. The league is more balanced than it’s ever been. It’s a battle to get in the tournament and once there anything can happen.”
The Bison were picked to finish third this year in the league’s preseason poll. That’s right around the spot the team is often picked, even when it went on to win its first ever outright regular season title with an unbeaten conference record in 2014. The past two seasons have seen the Bison snag the No. 4 seed, but that has resulted in a first-round matchup against nationally-ranked Boston University on its home field both times.
Both Boston University and American are in the first edition of the national rankings, which isn’t uncommon for either team, but it’s the emergence of the other programs in the league that has made the season so challenging. Lafayette has been a traditionally strong program, Holy Cross has seen drastic improvement with a new coach just a couple of seasons ago, and Lehigh has upped its recruitment of strong foreign players. Colgate has been at the bottom of the league standing the past couple of years, but could get a spark from new leadership this season.
Bucknell’s path to the postseason tournament last season was anything but a cakewalk. With their backs against the wall, the Bison dominated their final two league games, both by scores of 3-0. They then went on to give No. 14 Boston University everything it could handle in a 2-1 loss in the semifinal round of the conference tournament.
To Cook, his team’s victories in must-win situations and its strong play against the Terriers were more than just its ability to play well under pressure. It was also a sign that the team had made drastic improvements over the course of the season.
“That is something I take pride in,” Cook said. “One of the biggest compliments we can get is that we looked better at the end of the season than at the beginning.”
The Bison were able to get a better jump on preparation for this season thanks to a team trip to Holland in May. In addition to the cultural experience, the team played four games against opponents in an area renowned as one of the best in the world for field hockey.
One of the players that greatly benefitted from those extra games was Stephanie Dressler. The senior will take on an important role this season as the starting center back, a hole left by the graduation of standout player Anna Wills, who is now an assistant coach for the Bison. Dressler got her first game experience at the new position during the trip to Holland and was recently voted to the Preseason All-Patriot League Team.
“She has really stepped up her conditioning level to give herself the best chance to succeed at an important position,” Cook said. “It’s probably the heaviest position as far as workload and responsibility. She is playing with a lot of confidence”
“Sam went from playing sparingly last season to being a no-brainer starting left back this season,” Cook said. “Lexi was just getting back from an injury last season. She is one of our strongest players and very athletic. We have to have her on the field.”
Freshman Kaelyn Long was a striker in high school but has converted to left back and has looked good early on. Freshman Delanie Treacy will also work on defense, with Cook hoping she can learn the ropes from Dressler and compete for a spot at center back in the future.
The Bison also face the task of replacing an All-Patriot League player at center in the midfield with graduation of Kelsey Mucelli. It will be the first time in six years that the team won’t be starting a Wills and a Mucelli as the pair’s sisters – Liz Wills and Kelsey Mucelli – were also standouts.
As just a sophomore, Poltonavage joins Dressler, Emily Finn, and Quick as the team’s Leadership Group, the equivalency of team captains.
At left mid, sophomore Allie Christopher appears ready to take on a starting role. She scored a game-tying goal in the second half in Bucknell’s eventual one-goal loss to Boston University in the postseason. On the right side, it will be Marisa Morakis, who started 14 of the team’s 18 games last season.
Offensively, Bucknell returns its top scorer from a year ago in junior Nicole Rupnik. She is a Preseason All-Patriot League selection after leading the team with 18 points on eight goals and two assists last season. She will look to continue her success at left wing.
At center striker, Brittany Willwerth was outstanding as a freshman and earned Second Team All-Patriot League recognition at the end of the season. She finished with five goals and two assists and was a four-time Patriot League Rookie of the Week.
“She’s learning how to create space for herself and her confidence is really building as she understands what we are doing,” Cook said. “She is a dynamic player with a great finishing shot, and we have been doing a better job of getting her the ball more.”
Juniors Mackenzie Haney and Katie Mannino both expect to see a large chunk of playing time at right wing, while Emily Johnson will provide depth at the position. Junior M.C. Evans will see time and battle for one of the spots up front, and freshman Katie McCartney will also provide depth.
Junior Claire Lesher was not slotted specifically into any of the previous position battles, but only because of her versatility. She will play significant minutes on the right side at back, midfielder, and wing, and could be a potential starter at any of the three. That versatility will be key as Cook looks for different combinations and subbing patterns early on.
Finn returns as the starting goalkeeper after playing every minute last season. She recorded an impressive six shutouts.
“Finn and Dressler are great leaders by example,” Cook said. “They are competitive, work well together, and set a good balance for our team.”
Sophomore Olivia Harris, who spent some of the offseason competing for Team USA at the Maccabi Games, will back up Finn in goal.
The league slate is just part of the tough schedule Bucknell put together this season, starting with a non-conference game against Monmouth on Friday. The Hawks have won three straight MAAC regular season titles. The non-conference schedule gets even more challenging as it goes on, including games against Syracuse, Maryland, and Penn State, which are ranked fifth, sixth, and seventh nationally in the preseason poll.
“We’re excited to keep Syracuse and Penn State on the schedule and to add Maryland,” Cook said. “Maryland has been one of the top two teams in the country over the past 20 years.”