BOSTON, Mass. - The Simmons College field hockey team couldn't be in a better position to vie for an NCAA Tournament berth in 2014. The Sharks begin play with fellow league members in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference's inaugural season as a field hockey league. Simmons is coming off a season that saw it post its highest win total in eight seasons, which resulted in Head Coach Amanda Maxwell being named league Coach of the Year. All of the Sharks' success from a year ago has translated into respect from the other GNAC schools and a second place selection in the Pre-Season Coaches poll.
Simmons returns all but one starter from last year's squad and all but four players overall to account for 96% of the goals they scored last year. The team also welcomes back three all-conference performers and last year's league Rookie of the Year. Needless to say, the Sharks will have plenty of experience in the fold. With nearly all of its players returning, the program's cohesiveness and desire to put the team first is a definite strength.
Simmons will have a myriad of scoring options up front, including the team's second and third-leading scorers from a year ago.
Tri-Captain Kelly Williamson (Natick, Mass.) started 17 of 20 matches last year and tallied five goals, including a game-winner. The senior will rotate across the front line and brings a good sense of the offense with her. She's a good finisher, but will also look to set up scoring opportunities as well. Sophomore Jenna Gagnon (Waterville, Maine) will look to build off last year's Rookie of the Year campaign that saw her rack up 20 points on seven goals and six assists to land her on the All-Conference Second Team. The sophomore has a good shot to go with great stick skills, speed and vision on the field. She'll look to set up the attack and keep the ball in the offensive zone for the Sharks. Hailey Bruno-Moulton (South Berwick, Maine) also enjoyed a solid first year, with five goals and three assists and has worked her way into a starting spot. The sophomore is very strong on the right side and is looking to make an impact and set up scoring chances for Simmons. Gabrielle Henderson (Dover-Foxcroft, Maine) proved herself as a starter in 17 matches as a rookie last year in addition to a scoring touch that resulted in four goals. The sophomore controls the play in the middle of the field and is also a good finisher around the cage. Mary Neidhardt (Middlefield, Conn.) started all but one contest last year and placed second on the squad with 10 goals to go with a pair of assists. The second-year player will be looked upon to fill up the scoring column again from the left wing and continue to finish in front of the cage. A pair of newcomers could also crack the starting lineup, bringing a lot of speed into the equation. Samantha Rondeau (Franklin, Mass.) is one of the fastest players on the team and has really good stick skills, combined with outstanding field awareness. She should figure into the team's attack, while first year classmate Kelly Ryan (Hatfield, Mass.) could also help with the Sharks' scoring attack. She's fast with solid stick skills and will see significant time on the forward line.
Madeline Koufos (Needham, Mass.) saw action in 19 matches last year and connected for a pair of scores. She has good field vision and field awareness with the ability to set up scoring chances. The sophomore could see time up front or in the midfield. Classmate Jillian Mercer (Dartmouth, Mass.) started a pair of games of the 11 she appeared in last year and will look to play across the front line. She has good presence, sees the field well and will look to be a part of the scoring off the bench. First year Julie Saltamartini (East Hampstead, N.H.) is a goal scorer and will also look to contribute to the offense. Junior Nicole Coolbrith (Uxbridge, Mass.) appeared in six matches last year and is looking to improve her game, while being a part of the scoring, while junior transfer Suzy Moore (Alfred, Maine) will add depth to the forward line for Simmons.
The Sharks' midfield showcases the team's leading scorer from last season as well as a group of tough, defensive-minded players and a newcomer, who should make an immediate impact.
Tri-Captain Amy Cronin (Georgetown, Mass.) enjoyed a breakout year with a team-high 27 points on 12 goals and three assists, while starting all 20 games. She has one of the strongest sticks on the team and will play the middle of the field. The junior is also a good shooter with the ability to set up teammates for quality scoring chances. Sophomores Robin Powell (Richmond, Vt.) and Amy Wilson (Falmouth, Mass.) both started every match last year as rookies and return as part of the Simmons' "belt" in the midfield. Powell is very consistent and steady, while Wilson has shown the ability to shut down attackers from her spot on the left side of the midfield. First year Marra Wagner (Chester County, Pa.) has excellent field vision and really strong stick skills and will look to step in and play right away as a starting midfielder. Newcomers Kiera Kirkaldy (Middlebury, Vt.) and Jordan Howorth (Northborough, Mass.) will both look for time in the defensive midfield as well. Kirkaldy sees the field well and is patient on the defensive end, while Howorth has good defensive timing and will vie for time on the left side.
The defense features a pair of seasoned veterans, who should have no problem locking down the back line for Simmons.
Second Team All-Conference selection and Tri-Captain Avery Hines (Newburyport, Mass.) tied for the team lead with three defensive saves a year ago. The senior is a vocal leader with a calm, steady presence, which is part of her mistake-free style of play. She will anchor the backfield. Alexia Malone Oliver (Bristol, R.I.), like Hines is super fit, enabling her to pressure the ball and take chances on the defensive end. The junior enjoyed a fantastic season in 2013, starting all 20 matches, while putting her aggressive style on display. She's very quick on her feet and has great defensive timing.
First year Eryn Melanson (Townsend, Mass.) will look for time in the backfield during her rookie season. She is strong in one on one situations and possesses a steady, calm presence. First years Julie Kellndorfer (Amherst, N.H.), Nora Walker (Swampscott, Mass.) and Mary McNeil (Somersworth, N.H.) will all add depth to the Sharks' backline, while developing as players at the collegiate level.
A pair of sophomores will push each other in the cage for Simmons.
Brianna Rastello (Salem, N.H.) emerged as the team's top goalie by season's end last year, logging a team-high 572 minutes in eight starts. The keeper posted a 2.45 goals against mark and put up a .798 save percentage to earn Second Team All-Conference accolades as a rookie. The second year player is extremely quick on her feet and has the ability to dominate in the cage. Classmate Hope McDonald (Hingham, Mass.) saw limited action in two matches and did not allow a goal in nearly 80 minutes of play. She will continue to grow as a goalie on the collegiate scene.