Maite Sturm

Freshman Maite Sturm has been one of the driving forces behind VCU Field Hockey’s resurgence in 2017.

By Andy Lohman

VCU field hockey shifted gears for the 2017 season, and it’s paying immediate dividends.

Midway through Head Coach Stacey Bean’s first year at the helm of the Rams, they have already surpassed last year’s win total (7) with a record of 8-3. The team’s 8-1 record through its first nine matches was the program’s best start since 2012.

The intensity of the program has changed, and the Rams playing up-tempo hockey.

“We’ve just really changed two things,” Bean said. “I think the tempo of training has changed, just the level of focus. And then also we’ve changed our system of play a little bit to put some kids in some positions that I think that are better for their skill set.”

The faster game has led to more goals. Through 11 games, the Rams have found the back of the net 28 times, for a 2.55 goals per game average. Last season, VCU averaged just 2.17 goals per contest.

The main source of offense for VCU is junior forward Emily McNamara, whose speed and stickhandling allow her to generate shots at a massive rate. In 2016, McNamara set the school single-season points record with 45 (18 goals, nine assists). This year, she leads the team with 10 goals and 84 shots, including 51 shots on goal.

But the Rams’ new system has also led to more balance offensively. In 2016, no Ram besides McNamara scored more than five goals in 18 games. Through 11 games this season, Svea (6) and Maite (5) Sturm, twin sisters from Waltrop, Germany, have already reached that benchmark.

“It’s completely different,” McNamara said. “In past years you’d have one shot on goal and then it would be a turnover, versus this year we’ll have eight tries on goal in our circle because people are just feistier, and people connect.”

“I think our kids are being really unselfish with the ball,” Bean said. “There’s a time and a place to just shoot the darn thing, and there’s a time and place to pass it. But it takes the kids reading the play off the ball to commit to a passing lane.”

Not just a scoring threat, VCU has been strong defensively this season as well, conceding just 13 goals in 11 games while recording a pair of shutouts.

“It helps not only offensively to have the tempo high, but initially on the press the tempo is high on defense,” senior defender Natalie Bohmke said. “That starts with the forwards, but it transitions all the way from the front to the back. It also just helps with the intensity that you have the communication and the cohesiveness.”

While every coaching staff brings new ideas, the commitment to a high-intensity playing style could not have happened without buy-in from the players.

“I would say, and I’ve said this to anybody who will listen, most of the credit goes to the team, the kids,” Bean said. “Because if they don’t buy in to the simple changes we’re trying to make, then it doesn’t work no matter who you have on your roster.”

While the Rams cooled off slightly this past weekend, the only game they’ve lost by more than one goal this season was to St. Joseph’s, a nationally ranked program. Even in that loss, VCU outshot the Hawks 25-11.

With an athletic team that has bought in, the potential is high for VCU as it faces the heart of its conference schedule.

“I’ve said it from day one, the sky’s the limit for these guys.” Bean said. “The buy-in is there, we’re athletic at every position, they’re busting their butt every day, and it’s paying off for them.”