When the undefeated Radcliffe field hockey team meets Northeastern on Soldiers' Field this afternoon, there will be four freshman in the starting lineup--forwards Sarah Mleczko and Jenny Stone, right link Stefi Baum and left halfback July Cornman. Another newcomer, left wing Linda Cabot, will be on the bench waiting for a coach Debi Field's call.
Last year, the 'Cliffe squad went 3-11. So far this season, the stickwomen have run roughshod over six foes, registering four shutouts while scoring 17 goals and giving up only three.
Part of the improvement is the product of time. The veterans have started to do reflexively the things they have been taught in past years, and the team has now fully adjusted to the aggressive, winning style that Field brought to the team last season. "Last year we got a taste of the style of play Debi was asking for. This year we can do it," Crimson captain Ann Dupuis said yesterday. "She deserves all the credit."
But experience is only part of the story, and you need only look at the newcomers to complete the tale.
When Sarah Mleczko arrived in Cambridge this fall, she didn't think she would be able to make the varsity. All she has done is give the team an instant offense, scoring ten of the 17 goals Radcliffe has tallied in its six games.
In last Saturday's 3-2 squeeker at Dartmouth, she batted at an airborne pass and literally carried it into the net for the winning score.
Plays Both Ways
Of the four freshmen starters, Stefi Baum has been the biggest surprise, showing a mastery at her midfield position on both defense and attack, something very few freshmen can do, Field said yesterday. Her all-around play was one of the keys to the victory in Hanover.
Forward Jenny Stone is a strong player with a long reach and a powerful shot, and has been entrusted with centering the ball from the corner on penalty plays. Julie Cornman has won a starting spot on the inner defense, and has broken up foes' scoring bids with a passion. Linda Cabot has been a valuable reserve, playing in five of the six games.
But beyond all this, the new players have had an effect on the returning squad members. "Every woman on the team knew that there were some good new players coming--that everyone would have to play harder. They made the team practices more competitive in a very healthy way," Dupuis said.
And the freshmen brought an infectious enthusiasm that has improved the play of the whole team. That's a cliche, but it has worked. "For all of us freshmen--none of us came from high school teams that were used to losing," Mleczko said yesterday. "We've just always been winners, and that's not going to change now."