It was a strange position for the Merrimack field hockey team to be in this past offseason. Coming off multiple successful campaigns, including two trips to the Final Four in the last four seasons, the Warriors were adding a new head coach after Anne Rounce resigned last fall to focus on her teaching career.
In stepped Megan Shea, who was the assistant at Northeastern and brought five seasons of Division I coaching experience to the program. The program hasn’t skipped a beat.
“We expected the transition to be smooth, but it’s gone even better than any of us expected,” said senior goalkeeper Kayla Raneri.
The Warriors are 9-3 on the season and are currently on a run of four straight wins. Included in this recent stretch is a 12-1 pounding of Southern Connecticut and, more importantly, a 4-2 win over No. 3 Saint Anselm. The 12 goals scored on Saturday was Merrimack’s most in a game since 2000.
Part of the season the Warriors have been able to get things together so quickly with a new coach is a loaded class of juniors and seniors. Those players went all the way to the national title game two years ago, and many have been playing in big roles since their freshman years.
The Warriors now embark on their final five games of the regular season before the NE10 playoffs, looking to add a conference title, and maybe more.
“We’re seeing a lot of good things happening,” Raneri said. “We’re in a good place after the win over St. A’s and we’re excited for this stretch run. Our goal is to win a national championship.”
Merrimack is 5-2 in the NE10, two games back of first-place Stonehill. The Warriors are the only team this season to beat Saint Anselm (12-1).
Two seasons ago, the Warriors were in the national title game and fell short. Raneri was on that team, and said it’s been used as motivation ever since.
“It’s our everything,” she said. “Going to the national championship was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a player. The only thing that would have made it better would be to obviously win it. I want the rest of my teammates to get there. The seniors and the juniors went, and we all want our team to get back there. We know we can get there, and our success in the past is a motivator. We were so close.”
Along with Shea, Merrimack has also added Taylor Blood to the coaching staff. Blood was a standout player at Boston University, graduating just this past spring.
“I am very excited about Taylor being a part of my staff for the Merrimack field hockey program,” Shea said. “Taylor was not only was a fantastic player at Boston University but has risen to the top at a national level just this summer. Taylor’s knowledge of the game, her energy and ability to perform, as well as coach, is something that this program and our student-athletes will benefit from.”
“Megan and Taylor have been the best thing to happen to us,” Raneri added. “We’ve grown as a team and we’ve seen a difference in our play. I think that says a lot about the two of them as coaches. The team is in a really good place and we know that we’ll do huge things with them as our coaches.
“Usually when a coach leaves, it’s because there hasn’t been a lot of success. I think going into this transition, getting a new coach, we knew we would be OK because we had that past success. Having a strong class of juniors and seniors definitely helped us. We have girls here who have been playing in every game since they were freshmen. That experience on and off the field definitely helped us get into the new year with all the changes.”
Despite the success in recent years, the Warriors have never captured the NE10 Championship, coming closest in 2011 and 2012 when the team fell to UMass Lowell in the championship game — the Warriors were regular-season champions in both of those years.
Winning the NE10 is the first step in what the Warriors hope is a long postseason.
“We’re focusing on our last regular-season games, and it’s game-by-game,” Raneri said. “We want the NE10 Title first, then we can start moving forward from there.
“Having the momentum of winning the NE10 would be great. If we won the NE10 (two years ago) when we went to the national title game, I think we could have been more confident going into that tournament. Maybe it would have turned out differently for us? You’ll never know. But winning the NE10 is in front of us now and I think it would be important for our confidence.”