By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 24, 2011
With six starters and plenty other contributors returning from last year’s team — the Big Ten regular-season co-champion and Big Ten Tournament champion — the Michigan field hockey team appeared to have enough pieces for a repeat performance this year.
But with the addition of a highly decorated incoming freshman class, this year’s team might be even better.
“They’re all very talented players,” sophomore forward Rachael Mack said of the freshmen. “They’ve all been stepping up in practice, which has been really promising and bodes really well for the future.”
The seven player in the freshman class includes forward Lauren Annable, goalkeeper Adrianna Crovo, back Mackenzie Ellis, back Aline Fobe, forward Emy Guttman, midfielder Lauren Kent, and midfielder Axelle Wouters.
Fobe and Wouters have played alongside each other for the past two years on the Under-18 Belgian National Team while Annable has national team experience while playing in Canada.
Gutman and Crovo both have experience playing for USA Field Hockey. Gutman competed on the USA Junior Olympic squad in 2008 and 2009 while Crovo is a current three-year member of the Under-19 national team.
Through training camp and preseason, the newcomers have impressed early and often, especially Fobe. The Under-18 Belgian National Team captain has displayed poise and confidence expected for a freshman. With Fobe exhibiting a superb skill set, Michigan looks like it has found someone to fill the huge role left by back Meredith Way after she graduated.
“Aline has come in — and I think we all knew she was going to be good — and she has just stepped right in,” senior captain Eileen Brandes said. “You wouldn’t look at her and say she’s a freshman. She plays like a senior. She makes great decisions, she has great ball handling, and she’s so poised in the backfield.
"It’s something that we really appreciated — her coming in and filling the shoes of Meredith Way. It’s like we don’t even have that hole to fill.”
Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz has been equally impressed.
“Aline Fobe is very skilled and has a lot of polished skill sets and has a lot of experience,” Pankratz said. “She will step right in and contribute right away. She will be a fun player to watch and she’ll help us out right away.”
Crovo has also impressed on the defensive line. Although she’s competing for playing time with redshirt senior Christi Barwick and redshirt sophomore Haley Jones, who both manned the net exceptionally well last year, her athleticism has kept Pankratz uncertain about her goalkeeper rotation and happy with the depth that she possesses at that position.
With a well-rounded class, the freshmen also appear like they will be able to make an impact on the offensive end.
Although Wouters has been battling health issues of late, she and Guttman seem capable of providing some relief on the forward line for Mack, who will undoubtedly receive all of her opponents’ attention.
“It would be nice to see some offensive firepower out of those (freshmen),” Pankratz said. “We have some fast players and we’ve got some players with some special hands.
“Emy Guttman is coming right out of Pioneer, and she’s a nice goal scorer. It will be good for her to complement Rachael Mack — who I’m sure everyone is going to key in on — so having someone else to help her carry that offensive load will be helpful.”
With the season right around the corner, Pankratz knows that the rookies are prepared to make major contributions and hopes that they can do just that.
“It’s a good, solid, athletic class and its going to lean and grow a lot,” Pankratz said. “Hopefully those players are going to step right in and contribute. We’re excited to have them in our program.”