Led by junior co-captains Lesley Burk and Aileen Chang, UCSB’s women’s field hockey team is coming off of its first event of the year with a 1-1 record, including a 1-0 mark in conference play.
Santa Barbara faced off against UC Irvine and Cal Poly this past weekend in Irvine. The Gauchos dominated its first match against Irvine with a 4-1 win and an impressive showing for the relatively young squad. Cal Poly was a different matter, though, as the Mustangs came out firing and blanked UCSB 0-3 in a nonleague contest.
“Even though I’m never happy when we lose to Cal Poly, it was still a good game for us. We played as a unit, and worked on a lot of the fundamentals that were lacking against UCI,” Chang said. “It helps that it wasn’t a conference game. It’s almost like a free lesson in how to beat them next time.”
This past weekend marked the debut of perhaps one of the youngest ever field hockey teams at Santa Barbara.
“We have more rookies than returners this year, and a lot of our rookies are also new to the game. It’s tough, but we’ve shown a lot of promise so far,” Burk said.
One high point of the weekend was sophomore Darla Reader. Reader, a former lacrosse player, scored a goal against Irvine in her first ever field hockey game. Other standouts include senior Johanna Ploude and sophomore Kyleigh Eckenrod.
“Darla was great. I kept telling her to drive to the post, drive to the post, and when she did, she knocked one in. It’s a good sign for our team when our rookies can perform like that,” Chang said.
Besides the relative youth of the team, UCSB will also be without a coach during the course of the season. Instead, co-captains Burk and Chang have stepped into the roles of player-coaches. Though their new responsibilities will present a difficult challenge, they have more than a dozen years of field hockey experience between them.
“I was expecting a really big challenge, and it has been challenging. But the girls have been so great throughout this season. They listen, they respond on the field, and there’s so much cooperation. In my three years on the team, this is definitely the closest we have ever been,” Chang said.
Burk is equally excited about the challenge.
“We’ve been very honest and open with each other. When someone isn’t playing their best or is tired and they need to be taken out, we can tell them that. We’re all pretty much the same age, so it’s amazing that the team can handle one of us having to take charge,” Burk said. “It’s so easy to tell the truth to each other in that kind of environment,”
UCSB will need all the encouragement it can get from the coaching duo. With three-hour practices every weekday, and road trips and games every weekend, field hockey players face a daunting schedule. They are, however, already used to such demands.
“We start in August and we go until November, so by the time school starts we’re already into field hockey mode,” Burk said.
The strength of this year’s team will be measured come November. Only four teams will advance to the playoffs, and if UCSB can win enough games it will have the chance to vie for a regional championships.
Santa Barbara will get a well-deserved reprieve from travel on Sunday Oct. 19 at 11 a.m. at the pit, the team’s first home game.