Home-field advantage can often be the difference between winning and losing, and the field hockey team is doing its best to establish its territory.
After having only three practices to adjust to the new turf field at Marty Higgins Stadium next to the new Athletics and Events Center, the Bombers began the season with a hard-fought 3-1 loss to rival SUNY-Cortland last Thursday.
The team could not get on the field until just a few days before the matchup because of issues with the playing surface that had been lingering since its installation last spring.
Despite a tumultuous preseason during which the Blue and Gold practiced mostly indoors at Glazer Arena Track before moving to the turf, Head Coach Tracey Houk said her squad was unfazed by the difference in playing surfaces.
Sophomore midfielder Emily Lash, who had one goal in the team’s two games on the turf field last season, said the indoor practices on the synthetic surface were beneficial to the team.
“It helped us become more used to a faster surface as opposed to grass,” she said. “We would’ve been in a really tough spot if we hadn’t played inside because then we would have practiced on grass and been at a further disadvantage when it was time to switch over.”
The seeds of the turf are a mix of grass and synthetic material and currently remain on the surface. They have not been pressed down into the ground yet by shoes or equipment. This means the ball will stick to them and allow for better control with the stick, which is something the South Hill Squad will look to take advantage of this season.
Until this season, the Bombers had played their home games on Yavits Field, a grass field that sits near the bottom of campus.
Before this season, the team would have to go to Cornell University to practice on their turf fields in preparation for road games that were not on grass. They would also play on artificial surfaces when they faced out-of-conference opponents such as University of Rochester Yellow Jackets and William Smith College Herons.
Sophomore midfielder Andrea Pace said the ball rolls more on the turf field than on the grass field.
“I wouldn’t say that the turf is faster than the old grass fields yet, but it definitely plays a lot smoother,” Pace said. “It’s not nearly as bouncy and it’s just much more enjoyable to play on.”
Lash said the new turf field is tailor-made for the Bombers.
“It will definitely play to our strengths,” Lash said. “There’s a different style on grass, and you almost have to change your game play, because you can’t work the ball up the field as fast as other teams who are used to playing on the faster turf.”
Before this season, Elmira College was the only other member of the Empire 8 conference that still played their games on grass.
The Bombers played their last two regular season home games against the College of Wooster Fighting Scots and Washington and Jefferson College Lord Jeffs on the turf field last season, both of which ended in 5-2 losses.
The team’s only game on grass this season will be Oct. 4 against the SUNY-Brockport Golden Eagles.
Houk said she was proud of how her team adjusted and thinks it can combine its gritty play with a beautiful new venue to create a lethal home-field advantage.
“For us to come out and play that first game with the fire that we did with everything that we had to overcome recently, we just rolled with it,” she said. “It only means that we’re just going to get better once things stabilize.”