Last year, the field hockey team went 9-1 in the NESCAC, 19-3 overall, and were one win away from repeating as national champions. The squad featured four All-NESCAC players, the NESCAC Player of the Year and two National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFCHA) All-Americans.

It should say something about the strength of Head Coach Nicky Pearson's program, then, that expectations are even higher for this season.

Despite losing several starters, including Third Team All-American Colleen Finnerty and two-year starting goalkeeper Hannah Gartner, the Polar Bears entered the 2015 campaign ranked No. 1 in the NFCHA Division III preseason poll.

The ranking likely surprised no one. The squad returns 56 of its 76 goals scored from last season (74 percent), a remarkable 32 of which of which belonged to First-Team All American and NESCAC Player of the Year Rachel Kennedy '16. She'll co-captain the team with fellow First Team All-Conference selection Kim Kahnweiler '16, who will anchor the defense. Also returning are forward Kimmy Ganong '17, whose 11 goals were second-most on the team, and Second Team All-Conference midfielder Mettler Growney '17. All told, the team returns seven of 11 starters from last year's squad.

 In addition to captains Kennedy and Kahnweiler, the team will look to defenders Kelsey Mullaney and Alexa Baumgartner and forward Liz Znamierowski for senior leadership.
“That’s one thing Nicky likes to emphasize, having the senior class lead and everyone looking up to them," said Kennedy. "Each of us have different strengths, and different players will go to us for different things."

“We have a senior class where everyone wants to be a leader. In terms of creating a good team dynamic, when you have a class that all gets along, everyone can be looked up to," said Kahnweiler.

Znamierowski will be asked to step up, as she'll replace the graduated Adrienne O'Donnell on Bowdoin's high-powered front line. On the other end of the field, Clara Belitz '17 appears to be the frontrunner to replace Gartner in goal, while Liz Rill '17 and talented first year Grace Linnan will compete for playing time in the same role.

The team spent the preseason working hard on fundamentals to ensure that strong team chemistry carries over to action on the field.

“It’s different coming back when you have spots to fill, so getting players in those positions and feeling comfortable and building team chemistry across the field," said Kennedy. "That’s one of our goals this season, to work with each other and off each other.

“One thing [Coach Pearson] says at the beginning of every season is ‘This is your only chance to play with this team,’" said Kahnweiler. "So we spend a lot of time building chemistry and working on basic skills—we do a lot of passing, stick skills, and make sure to mix up who we’re working with in practice."

Mastery of such fundamentals is essential to Bowdoin's success, as Pearson's teams are known to dissect opposing defenses with quick movement and precise passing.

“We’re known for speed, we’re known for moving the ball," said Kahnweiler. "We call it one-touch hockey, get it and give it. We try to not take people one on one.

“We like to play a high-paced style. We focus a lot on our spacing and supporting the ball carrier, and we try to master and execute basic skills," said Pearson.

The Polar Bears will indeed need to be sharp every week if they want to successfully navigate the minefield that is a NESCAC regular season schedule. Perpetual rival Middlebury—who defeated the Bears in last year's NESCAC Championship Game—return 10 of their 11 top goal scorers and were ranked No. 3 in the NFHCA preseason poll. Perennial 'CAC contenders Tufts, Amherst and Trinity also placed in the poll, ranking ninth, 11th and 15th, respectively. Bowdoin will also face No. 10 Wellesley in a midseason out-of-conference matchup.
Predictably, the team has adopted a "one game at a time" mentality.

“Our biggest rivals are usually Middlebury and Tufts, but we do a pretty good job of staying focused on the next game ahead," said Kennedy. "You can’t look too far into the future."
“We would love to go undefeated. We’d love to have a perfect season," said Kahnweiler. "And it’s great to have that common goal, but that goes back into one game at a time. In order to meet that goal, you have to win today’s game."

The team got off to a good start on Wednesday night, dismantling the University of New England on the road in its season opener. Znamierowski scored the Polar Bears' first goal of the season, and Kennedy and Baumgartner each added one of their own for a 3-1 Bowdoin win. Belitz started in goal and made two saves.

Pearson's Bowdoin teams have won four of the last eight D-III National Championships, and veterans on this year's team have experienced both winning and losing in national title games. If the team has any flaws, inexperience is not one of them.

“Having experience playing in that game—whether we’ve won it or lost it—the players then are aware of what it takes to get there. There are going be a lot of things on that journey that will be in your favor, and sometimes you have bad luck," said Pearson.

"I think that experience is valuable, but we never talk about it, to be honest with you. I start a new job every August, and this is a group that will be better than last year’s team in some areas, and in others we may not be as good. I don’t like to compare teams—this is what we have this year. We’re going to play to the strengths of this group and enjoy and embrace the process."
“We all know at this point how much it takes to get there. It wasn’t by chance, it was because we worked hard," said Kahnweiler. "Some people might assume we’ll get there again, but there isn’t that assumption on the team. We all know it takes a lot.”