It’s another fresh start for the Wittenberg field hockey team, which has its third head coach in the last three years. Nothing has slowed the Tigers down in the past, however, so forgive the members of the program for showing little concern about the transition.
The Tigers, winners of three straight North Coast Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships, are now under the direction of Diana Kuser, a former Ohio State University standout who is making her head coaching debut. She has 12 letterwinners, including five full-time starters, expected back on the Edwards-Maurer Field turf in 2005, a fact that would make any new coach much more comfortable.
Those returning starters are spread evenly throughout the lineup, meaning the Tigers have quality and experience in each area even after losing five outstanding senior starters off a team that finished 15-5 overall and advanced to the seventh NCAA Division III Tournament in school history.
Offensively, senior Julia Wickham (Columbus, Ohio/Grandview) and junior Katy Barrett (Powell, Ohio/Watterson) are the top returners. Barrett had 35 total points and 16 goals, both second-best on the team, in 2004, while Wickham added 12 goals and 26 total points, good for third on a team with the most prolific offense in the conference. They will be asked to do even more in 2005 in the absence of third-team All-America honoree and NCAC Offensive Player of the Year Blair Ufer, who graduated in May.
Ufer patrolled the midfield expertly, and while she will be missed, junior Holly McHugh (Randolph, NJ/Randolph) returns to the starting lineup to lead the transition from defense to offense. The Tigers also took a significant hit with the graduation of NCAC Defensive Player of the Year Carrie Happ and two other starters, but two-time all-conference back Rachel Dunn (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Allegheny), a junior, returns to lead that unit. In addition, sophomore goalkeeper Nicole Irvin (Gettysburg, Pa./Littlestown) was outstanding in her first collegiate season, and her presence figures to help ease the burden.
Other returning letterwinners include sophomore defenders Christina Irwin (Bexley, Ohio/Bexley) and Kate Bucher (Oxford, Ohio/Talawanda), sophomore defender/midfielders Alison Voigt (Louisville, Ky./Ballard) and Sadie Mummert (Hanover, Pa./Littlestown), junior forward Melissa Jackson (Worthington, Ohio/Thomas Worthington) and sophomore forwards Caroline Mason (New Canaan, Conn./New Canaan) and Claire Johnson (Mason, Ohio/Mount Notre Dame). They will be joined by a promising six-player recruiting class.