Field Hockey Picked First in GNAC Pre-Season Coaches Poll; Looks to Defend Title

The Simmons College field hockey team returns nine starters from last year?s Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship squad and as a result was picked first in the GNAC Pre-Season Coaches Poll.

The Simmons College field hockey team returns nine starters from last year's Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship squad and as a result was picked first in the GNAC Pre-Season Coaches Poll.

The Sharks are in the enviable position of welcoming back three seniors and 10 juniors in addition to six of their top seven scorers and three First Team All-Conference honorees from a year ago for an invaluable mix of experience and talent that should set them up well for another NCAA Tournament run.

Simmons is also extremely deep as evidenced by at least 14 players who could step in and start this season without missing a beat. The squad looks to defend its conference crown behind a team-first mentality, strengthened by so much familiarity and confidence in each other.

The team's defense was stifling last season, posting eight shutouts, while ranking 20th in the nation with a 1.18 goals against average. First Team All-Conference goalkeeper Brianna Rastello (Salem, N.H.) was a key reason for the defense's success. She was named the GNAC Goalkeeper of the Week six times and led the circuit with a .789 save percentage, which also ranked 39th in the nation. Her 1.27 GAA placed her 27th among NCAA Division III leaders. The junior posted five shutouts and played in all but 120:02 of the team's minutes from a year ago. Classmate Hope McDonald (Hingham, Mass.) has filled in nicely for Rastello when called upon. She did not allow a goal in three matches last season, while posting a shutout and has yet to give up a marker in nearly 200 career minutes of action. She has improved her skills in the cage, is very vocal and should be ready when asked.

Senior Captain Alexia Malone Oliver (Bristol, R.I.) will start on the right side in the backfield for the Sharks after starting 18 of 19 matches a year ago. The three-year starter is an excellent one-on-one defender with good speed and stick skills and will be a mainstay for the defense. Sophomore Maizy Wagner (Chester County, Pa.) will move to the backfield and reside on the left side for Simmons. She was the only rookie on the team to start all 19 contests last year and is very calm and poised on the field. The second-year player reads the game well and has great vision.

Sophomores Eryn Melanson (Townsend, Mass.) and Julie Kellndorfer (Amherst, N.H.) will both provide support in the backfield off the bench for the Sharks. Melanson responded in her only start of the season last year with two defensive saves and is solid inside the circle. She keeps her stick down and is a vocal defender. Kellndorfer comes into the season with improved stick skills and is an outstanding team player. The back is a coachable asset to the squad and her conditioning should earn her playing time during the year. First year Mandy Koshivas (Ipswich, Mass.) was a two-time Most Valuable Player for Ipswich High School and a Salem News Honorable Mention All-Star last year and will vie for minutes with Simmons this season.

Amy Wilson (Falmouth, Mass.) comes off a tremendous season after being named to the GNAC First Team. A Captain this year, Wilson tallied nine points on three goals and three assists last year to go with a defensive save. The junior is steady on the field and owns an imposing physical presence that should slow opposing offenses. She will be a major cog on the left side of the Sharks' defensive "Belt Line" in the midfield. Classmates Robin Powell (Richmond, Vt.) and Hailey Bruno-Moulton (South Berwick, Maine) join her on the belt line. Powell started all 19 matches last year and will see action in the center midfield, where she will be utilized in the team's transition game. A player with great poise, she doled out three assists last year and will be counted on to control the middle of the field for Simmons. Bruno-Moulton will play on the right side and allows the team to play aggressively on defense with her ability to get back in the defensive zone from the midfield. She is exceptionally fit and extremely competitive, making it her business not to get beat by opponent's attackers. Her strong stick skills and field vision served the Sharks well in 18 starts last year.

Kiera Kirkaldy (Middlebury, Vt.) returns for her second campaign and will look for time in the defensive midfield. She has good defensive timing and anticipates well. Her ability to jab should challenge opponents' offensive players. First year Meghan Fontaine (Westminster, Mass.) was Oakmont Regional High School's top defensive player, while earning Midland Wachusett League Division C All-Star honors. She has great potential and will look to contribute this season and fight for important minutes.

Senior Amy Cronin (Georgetown, Mass.) was the team's top distributor last year with seven assists and will be counted on to continue setting up her teammates from the high midfield. The two-year Captain started all 19 matches last season and is a leader on the field. First year Analise (Giarrusso (Hingham, Mass.) should see a lot of time on the high right midfield. The three-time Patriot League All-Star for Hingham High School has proven to be unshakable on the field with strong stick skills and the ability to find an open teammate.  

Simmons' offensive attack should be among the best in the region with a number of high caliber scorers on the roster. The sophomore tandem of Julie Saltamartini (East Hampstead, N.H.) and Sammy Rondeau (Franklin, Mass.) joined by juniors Jenna Gagnon (Waterville, Maine) and Mary Neidhardt (Middlefield, Conn.) should make it very difficult for opposing defenses to contain the Sharks on offense.

Saltamartini exploded onto the scene as the GNAC Rookie of the Year with 34 points, including 15 goals, which ranked third among league leaders. The First Team All-League selection notched at least one point in 10 matches and scored multiple goals on six occasions. She is lethal in front of the cage and cashed in for four game-winners last year. Rondeau ranked among the conference's top-15 in points (21), goals (seven) and assists (seven) and was named the GNAC Rookie of the Week once as well. She is very quick with strong stick skills and should contribute from the forward and high midfield spots for the Sharks. Gagnon missed the first seven games of the season with an injury, but closed out the year with a flurry, notching at least one point in six of the squad's final eight matches and was named GNAC Player of the Week twice. She finished the season with 18 points on seven goals and four assists and was named the GNAC Tournament Most Valuable Player.
Neidhardt raised her conditioning to a new level and comes into the season looking to build on a sophomore campaign that saw her average nearly a point per game. Despite missing four matches due to injury, she registered 14 points, including six goals.

Simmons has great depth on the offense, led by Gabi Henderson (Dover-Foxcroft, Maine). The junior will look to contribute from the right wing as an excellent distributor. She started five matches last year and has the ability to beat defenders in one-on-one situations. First year Missy Maiewski (Northampton, Mass.) is a scrappy, raw player, who seems to find ways to score in front of the cage. Her aggressive style led to 21 goals for Northampton High School and an All-Western Mass designation as a senior. She should see significant time for the Sharks. Junior Madeline Koufos (Needham, Mass.) saw time in nine matches a year ago and has strong stick skills to go with a very good shot. She also has excellent field vision and will be counted on to set up her teammates on the offense. Junior Jillian Mercer (Dartmouth, Mass.) and senior Nicole Coolbrith (Uxbridge, Mass.) should also contribute for Simmons. Mercer played in 11 matches and made a start last year, while dishing out three assists and has good speed. Coolbrith saw time in seven matches a year ago and can play either wing position with the ability to work well with the center forwards. First year Sarah Douglas (Woodstock, Conn.) was a Captain for Woodstock Academy last year and has a good work ethic. She is very coachable and will vie for time in the Sharks' offense.