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After starting out the year with an 18-1 victory, prospects for the Indiana University of Pennsylvania field hockey team looked hopeful.
Five games later and five losses later, the Crimson Hawks sit at a disappointing 1-5. Four of those losses have come by one goal margins, including Saturday’s 4-3 defeat to top-ranked Shippensburg University.
The Crimson Hawks can ill afford to drop many more decisions, with only 12 games to play.
IUP’s team has two golden opportunities to turn around its season with back-to-back games Friday at West Chester University and Saturday at Kutztown University.
What better way to start the turnaround than playing two Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference rivals on their home fields?
“West Chester is a great team,” head coach Gary Agard said about the Golden Rams, who are ranked third in the latest national poll.
Beating West Chester would serve as a sort of revenge for the Crimson Hawks. West Chester knocked off the Crimson Hawks with a 3-2 overtime decision Sept. 14 at George P. Miller Stadium.
IUP held a 2-0 lead for the first 58:25 of that game. However, the Golden Rams stormed back to tie the game with less than five minutes to play. Nancy Stehman scored the game-winner just over a minute into the overtime period to drop the then-No. 6 ranked Crimson Hawks.
“They are disciplined and are technically and tactically sound. They will be a challenge for us, but we always play them close. This game will be a signature game for us to turn around our season,” Agard said.
The Crimson Hawks have not played Kutztown, who is ranked ninth nationally, prior to Satuday’s matchup but did defeat the Golden Bears 5-2 in last year’s only meeting.
“Kutztown is playing with more confidence this year,” Agard said. “They are nationally ranked, and I think the players are excited and are playing with a little more passion.
“We just need to play our game, execute our game plan. If we do that, we will be just fine.”
Jessica Kida (sophomore, nuclear medicine) believes that two wins over the weekend could do a lot for team morale, along with helping their overall record.
“It would be really huge to get two wins this weekend,” Kida said. “Not only would it improve our record, but it would give the team the confidence we need in order to turn our season around.”
Kida is one of the Crimson Hawks’ most valuable players. The forward is leading the team with six goals on 12 shots. Ten of those shots have been on target.
After starting out the season with four goals in IUP’s 18-1 opening romp of Newberry College, Kida has cooled off with only two goals and four shots on goal.
She and the rest of the Crimson Hawks, however, are focused on winning the upcoming games and not on statistics.
“The goal for these away games is to set a new tone for the rest of our season,” Kida said. “We want to focus on being the team we can be.
“Our team has great chemistry and a lot of talent, which I know we can use to our advantage to get these wins.”
Another key player, goalkeeper Darian Shuker (junior, business) thinks that a season turnaround is not out of reach.
“We need to focus on fundamentals and putting the ball in the cage,” Shuker, who has stopped 26 shots this season. “The goal for this weekend is to control the tempo of the game and to play our game, play IUP field hockey.”
If the Crimson Hawks can come away with two wins this weekend, their season will gradually be getting back on track.
The Crimson Hawks finish with seven of their last ten games at home against the likes of Slippery Rock University, Shippensburg University, Mercyhurst University and Bloomsburg University to name a few.
“I feel my team has to make minimal changes [to get on a winning streak],” Shuker said. “We have the talent and knowledge to go deep into the playoffs. We just need to fix the little aspects of the game.
“If we can focus on our fundamentals and play a full 70 minutes, I know we can beat the rest of the teams we play this season.”