ALBANY — Fresh off winning its conference championship, the University at Albany field hockey team is set to take on its next challenge in the form of an NCAA tournament first-round game at noon Friday against No. 2 Maryland.
UAlbany traveled to Stanford University to play in the America East Tournament last weekend. Going in as the top seed, UAlbany won the tournament beating UC Davis 1-0, Pacific 4-3 and Maine 2-0. UAlbany went 6-2 in conference and 16-4 overall during its regular season as it won its third America East Tournament in five years.
“There was something to us that we were the No. 1 seed,” senior Frederike Helmke said.
That resolve showed when UAlbany hit adversity out at Stanford, as a number of Great Danes experienced “flu-like symptoms” before the tournament got started. The team’s first game had to be postponed, and UAlbany had to play three games in three days.
“Last week has been quite the adventure going West Coast, getting food poisoning, seeing if we would even survive our first game,” UAlbany head coach Phil Sykes said. “We've come a long way.”
“Other [players] who were healthy were taking care of us,” Helmke said. “It was really great we ended up winning the America East.”
Sophomore Ghislaine Beerkens, who led UAlbany in goals scored in the regular season with 13, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Previously, Helmke was named the America East Defensive Player of the Year and redshirt junior Melissa Nealon — a Shenendehowa graduate — was named the league’s co-goalkeeper of the year.
Before playing Friday at Maryland’s Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex, it’s likely the Great Danes will settled any nerves they have with some help from their pregame rituals. For Nealon, that means putting together a puzzle, a ritual that started innocent enough with one puzzle being bought to do . . . and, now, 30 puzzles later, it’s an every-game thing.
“It’s just calming and relaxing,” Nealon said. “Everyone individually has their own thing to do.”
UAlbany heads into the tournament unranked. The Great Danes want to make that work for them.
“I think it’s kind of nice sometimes if you can fly under the radar,” Sykes said. “Sometimes if you get ranked a bit too high, the pressure kind of adds to you.”
Maryland has an overall record of 19-2. The last two times UAlbany has faced Maryland was in 2014 and 2015, and UAlbany won in both meetings.
In 2014, UAlbany advanced to the tournament’s semifinals.
Michael O’Brien is an intern at The Daily Gazette. O’Brien, a junior at the University at Albany, is majoring in journalism.