Victory in SUNYAC opener positive sign for Oswego State

The College at Brockport’s Amy Masciale dribbled into the circle, past the arc and beat newly subbed-in Laker goalie Grace Lombardi. Ninety seconds into the second half of Oswego State’s SUNYAC opener the Lakers trailed by two goals, 3-1.

Then the switch flipped.

“We all relied on each other,” said field hockey head coach Brandi Lusk. “At halftime, we told them what they had to do and [we] were very emotional about it…the girls saw how much the coaches wanted it, we knew how much the team wanted it and they just went out and they did it. I felt that, walking onto that field, the team kept saying, ‘There’s no way we’re going to lose this game’ and finally they just sucked it up and made it happen.”

The win was the team’s fourth in its SUNYAC opener during Lusk’s 11-season tenure, but just its second against a team other than Morrisville State, which hasn’t won a conference game since October 2010. Both of those victories have come on the road.

A year ago, when the two sides met at Oswego State, a Nickole Morgan goal in the 100th minute sealed a double-overtime victory for the visitors. The Sept. 18 matchup with the Golden Eagles in Brockport had been circled on the Lakers’ calendar since the offseason.

“It was fantastic,” Lusk said of the win. “We had been mentally preparing and physically preparing for that game since we got here. We were very disappointed with how the game went last year against Brockport, so the team really wanted to come out and pull the win.”

Besides redemption, the biggest takeaway from the victory for Lusk was the importance of game preparation. The players did not review game film or read the scouting reports prior to last week’s game against the Golden Eagles, so their head coach has been pushing how helpful those aspects are during the week leading up to games.

This week, the Lakers have been preparing “extremely hard,” according to Lusk. She wants her team to show up for Friday’s SUNYAC home opener against SUNY New Paltz and Saturday’s game against SUNY Oneonta aware of what it is supposed to do. Her hope is that it is now understood that readiness is a necessity on game days.

“I think Michael Jordan said it best,” Lusk said. “It was something to the extent of ‘practices should be the hardest part of your week. Games should be the easiest part of your week.’ So you should be mentally and physically prepared for the game before you ever get into it and that’s what we’re trying to do for this weekend.”

One positive Oswego State has heading into a portion of the schedule full of SUNYAC opponents is its offensive production.

The team’s 10 goals thus far are the second most by a Lusk-coached Lakers team behind only her inaugural squad, which is also her only team to beat a team besides Morrisville State to start conference play. Crucial to the increased scoring has been an increased shots on goal percentage. Through five games, 25 of the team’s 33 shots have been on target. That number is also a team best during Lusk’s time as head coach.

“We are in great shape and we have more depth in stick skills compared to previous teams,” Lusk said. “This team works very hard and we have been working a lot on capitalizing on scoring opportunities.”

While the offense is hitting its stride, the opposite side of the ball is still an area in need of improvement for field hockey.

The Lakers lost starting goalie Sarita Charap nearly two weeks ago and she is expected to miss at least three more. Without the reigning SUNYAC Rookie of the Year and first team All-SUNYAC goalie, Oswego State allowed the College at Brockport to score its first three goals of the season after it was shutout through its first five contests.

Freshman Alex Theisen started her first collegiate start in the game against the Golden Eagles because of her skills defending scuffles in front of the net. After she allowed the first two goals, she was relieved by senior Grace Lombardi who locked down the cage after allowing a ball off a Laker defender’s stick to pop over her and across the line.

Lusk recognized that Oswego State stepped up when needed, especially down the stretch, but believes there is still room to move forward.

“We still have a lot of work to clean up defensively,” Lusk said. “In the goalie area, those two girls work so hard. I give them all the credit in the world. But defensively as a team, we need to clean it up. We can’t give New Paltz and Oneonta those opportunities we gave Brockport.”

Playoff field hockey in November is on Lusk’s mind this season and, while it feels within her reach, the journey to the post-season begins with the pair of home games ahead.

“We are a playoff-caliber team this year. I truly believe that,” Lusk said. “But we’ve got to win at least two more conference games. Where those chips [will] fall? I have no idea. We could knock off some really great teams and hopefully we get the wins that we should be able to get, but this weekend’s important.”