Colonials join MAAC after collapse of NEC field hockey

Although field hockey was never the Northeast Conference’s most popular sport for female athletes, with only half of the member institutions sponsoring a team, the league managed to subsist with a solid core of six programs during its 14 year existence.

That was until early July, when longtime members Monmouth and Quinnipiac decided to break off ties with the NEC and join the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for all sports, which inevitably ceased the existence of Northeast Conference field hockey with a single blow.

Since a conference must have a minimum of six Division I schools playing a specific sport to remain eligible for the NCAA tournament, Bryant, Robert Morris, and Sacred Heart were absorbed as associate members of the MAAC, while former rival St. Francis (PA) joined the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“I think if anything, our girls are just so driven because it would be nice to be the first team in a new conference’s championship,” said head coach Olivia Netzler, who is in her seventh season at helm of the Colonials. “We loved being a part of the NEC, but we’ll embrace our new conference as much as possible. If anything, it’s just a new beginning, and the girls are treating it just as if they are in the NEC.”

Even though forward Harriet Brown wasn’t with the Colonials when they were a part of the NEC, she anticipates a stable shift acclimating to the new conference.

“There will be pretty hard teams to play against [in the MAAC] with a much higher tempo,” said Brown, a freshman. “I think, to be honest, the way that we play will work against any other team, and we will just adjust the way we play to how they’re defending us.”

Despite the fact that Robert Morris is an affiliate of the MAAC, as opposed to a full-time member in which all varsity sports are governed by that conference, Netzler doesn’t expect there to be much of an adjustment for the Colonials when league play begins on October 13.

“Every school is the same, so it’s going to be a smooth transition. It’s almost like we just have a different logo on our uniforms now telling us which conference we are in,” said the native of Sydney, Australia. “It’s going to be hard to lose that little rivalry with them [St. Francis (PA)], otherwise every other team is the exact same, nothing really changes.”

Lindsay Burrows, the program’s assistant coach, who was hired by the university in February, believes that his background as both a midfielder and defender can assist the program in the long run.

“I just think it’s about setting a simple structure that can be relied on by the girls throughout the entire season,” Burrows said. “They’ve all really embraced it currently, and I think they’re working very hard and we’re heading in the right direction and we should be pretty right for the start of conference once we get our road trip out of the way.”

Netzler believes that the Colonials’ tough non-conference schedule against established programs such as Ball State and Indiana prepared the squad to compete against MAAC teams.

“The better team you play, the more confidence you’re going to have, if you succeed against them,” she said.” I think it will prepare us for the pace of the game, and this year, we have a team that can succeed against those teams.”