Westward expansion

Brendan O'Sullivan

The Quinnipiac field hockey team began last season at home with a loss against Boston College. The Bobcats went on to finish 7-10, their best record since joining the Big East in 2016. This year, Quinnipiac started differently.

It wasn’t the outcome of the games that changed, nor was it a massive roster change. Instead, the Bobcats decided to begin their season out west in California. Quinnipiac booked an extended stay in California from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3.

The team faced off against three high-level programs in University of California Berkeley, UC Davis and No. 21 University of Stanford. Quinnipiac left without a win, but head coach Becca Main used the experience to grow as a team against good competition.

[media-credit name=”Megan Lowe” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]“I think the most important thing for us going there was to have a high level of competition and we had the opportunity to play some really good-level hockey,” Main said. “I think we obviously didn’t leave with the win-column win, but we had two very good games that we’re pretty proud of.”

Those three games proved to be meaningful to more than just Quinnipiac. Main talked about the lack of exposure western field hockey teams get because they’re much farther away from competition. Main felt it was Quinnipiac’s duty to highlight the talents on the west coast.

The process to finalize these games began last year at the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) convention. The convention pushed for teams in the northeast to travel out west, south or up to Maine to give the field hockey teams more exposure.

Main committed to traveling to California, and despite being separated by nearly 3,000 miles, the process to set up three games was simple, according to Main. Quinnipiac had hosted California Berkeley in 2017 and promised to return for a game in California in the future.

“It’s just kind of a lady’s handshake when you’re saying, ‘I came out here to play you, and now will you come out to play with me,’” Main said. “And most people don’t actually go back and reciprocate. So for us, it was almost a little bit about ethical and principle.”

Quinnipiac’s trip to California was its first since 2001 when Main’s team lost to Berkeley in the NCAA Tournament play-in game. Going back was surreal for Main, 19 years since her first NCAA Tournament appearance. The team stayed at the same hotel this time around but the difference was the extended stay. The Bobcats stayed five days this year compared to the three in 2001. They were able to take a breath and explore the west coast before returning to Hamden.

“I remember walking and thinking, ‘Well, how long are we going to last?’ And now you’re going in firing with all guns blazing going after somebody,” Main said. “So the level of hockey for us has changed immensely. The style of hockey has changed in 20 years. Also, the commitment to our program here and what they’ve done has enabled us to bring in better recruits and also to develop better players.”

The field hockey style changed in 19 years, so Main came back with some newfound knowledge of western hockey. The style has a touch of creativeness, less rigor and a more laid-back feel to it. However, the big difference was in the weather. Humidity often drags Main and the Bobcats down in Hamden, but it wasn’t an issue in California.

That said, Main doesn’t plan on bringing the style back to Hamden. She believes her game plan suits the team the best, and that California only helped the team find its best playstyle. Quinnipiac’s playstyle benefits senior midfielder Inès Ruiz Martinez. She’s been with the team for four years, most recently winning NCAA Statistical Champion for defensive saves. She cherished the experience of playing and bonding with the team in a new place.

“It was really amazing like to have the opportunity to travel with the whole team,” Martinez said. “It was really nice and we got the opportunity to practice all together. Also on three different fields and against three really good teams.”

Main looks to Martinez for leadership as the veteran team enters its fourth season in the Big East. Martinez, along with graduate student Bianka Strubbe, are seen as the leaders despite their vastly different leadership styles.

[media-credit name=”The Chronicle Archives” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Martinez, Spain, and Strubbe, Poland, have held a field hockey stick for longer than most players in the United States. Both began playing around the age of five, and Main believes that experience plays a role in their current leadership positions.

“Both of them have totally different leadership styles, totally different ways of how they incorporate others into what they’re doing,” Main said of Martinez and Strubbe. “And I think it’s really good for the team. Probably over this weekend was the first time I thought about what life will be without them, and that was something that I’m not interested in even thinking about yet.

“But the two of them, you know, they run the middle of the field for us and they are vital, more vital to me in a practice and more vital to me in a film session than anything because of the contributions that they make and the thoughts that they make.”

Martinez’s and Strubbe’s leadership will have to transition the team from California to the goal of winning a Big East Championship. Quinnipiac hosts the Big East Championships this year and could potentially win in Main’s 25th year as the head coach of the Bobcats.

Main expects the championships to be similar to the California trip, as the team and university will be highlighted on a larger scale. Prospective students and recruits will witness the team and university first hand, regardless of Quinnipiac’s finish.

However, the championship is months away and Main is more focused on day-to-day tasks like making each practice count. Though Martinez and Strubbe are seen as the leaders of the team, Main sees the freshmen leading in their own right.

“I think that our motto right now is everyone should be playing like a freshman,” Main said. “Everyone should be trying to impress, everyone should be giving their all in every step and every sprint.”

That mentality will push the Bobcats throughout the season. The team’s next game is at home on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 12 p.m. against Sacred Heart. It will be Main’s first regular-season game at home during her 25th season.

“We’ve got to have chemistry,” Main said. “You’ve got to be ignited by the person next to you. And we did find out that we are able to do that.”