After being crowned SUNYAC champs last season, the field hockey team opened their 2014 season with a 4-0 win over Western Connecticut University. Head Coach Shanna Vitale said the new players this season are fairing well on the field and in play with the rest of the team. Transitioning from high school to college game is a different pace, she said, but the returning players are doing a great job at leading the underclassmen. The team lost five fourth-years who were also starters, so some new players have occupied this void. “Every team changes from year to year,” Vitale said. “The dynamics are different, the people are different, but there are some freshmen providing an extra spark on the field. Right now, we’re in the process of putting out the best eleven on the field that we can.” Adding some more enthusiasm to the season is new Assistant Coach Sara Woodward, who Vitale said has proven to be a great asset to the team’s coaching staff. Hailing from New Paltz rival SUNY Cortland where she played from 2009-12, Woodward has been providing the team with extra reinforcement in attack play as well as goalkeeping. “Sara played for one of our rivals, Cortland, so she’s very familiar with the SUNYAC system and very familiar with how we play,” Vitale said. “She has experience coming from another Div. III school, Marywood [University], where she was the assistant there, so she brings a lot of energy and excitement to the team.” Woodward said her comfort with the team was almost instantaneous since she already had an effective feel for how they work the field. “I’m very familiar with the team because I’ve played against them enough and I understand how hard working they are,” Woodward said. “It’s been an easy transition from the school that I was at before to this one because the players are so determined, hardworking and very coachable. They took me into their team very quickly and were just ready, I suppose. It was really comforting to know I just came in and it feels like I hadn’t really missed a beat.” Though she has had previous coaching experience before, this one is different for Woodward in the way that she is able to promote self-growth while working alongside Vitale. Being that she was an attack player when she played for Cortland, gaining some more strategic understanding in the realm of defense is one of her goals for this season. “I’m getting a lot more experience with goalkeeping [during practices,] which is good because I’m really more used to attacking a goalkeeper and not defending the goals as much,” Woodward said. “I think my main objective is to learn some more defensive sides to the game and apply the two together as a whole, and not just the attack.” After their strong season-opener the dynamics of the team are looking just as strong as last year, said fourth-year midfielder Deirdre O’Neill. “The coaching staff has been working very hard over the last two weeks to make sure we were where we needed to be for our season to begin,” O’Neill said. “With a week of two-a-day practices, the coaching staff was able to see our weaknesses and really focus on making them strengths before stepping into our season opener.” O’Neill also said that Woodward has been meshing well with the team so far and from only being together a few short weeks it is simple to see her strengths as a coach. “Sara has been a great addition to the team so far,” O’Neill said. “With her successful offensive experience in her career, she has been able to help us all over the field. Coach Vitale demands hard work and dedication, and Woodward’s coaching style is very similar.” For now, the coaches are focusing on what is right ahead of them: the season’s upcoming games. But Vitale is keeping glimpses of SUNYAC close by, knowing that this goal is definitely attainable by the time the tournament begins again. “Working towards one of our longer term goals is competing in the tournament, hosting the tournament and winning the tournament,” Vitale said. “But right now we are in the process of preparing for our first games. In order to do that, we’re working on building a lineup that’s going to be successful for us on the field. We are applying what we are doing in practice and training into the games, working hard on the field and understanding the game as a whole.” Though the coaches are focusing on some short term goals, O’Neill said the team’s ultimate goal for the season is to make it further in the NCAA tournament than they did last season. “We have been working extremely hard since last season to make sure this goal becomes a reality and we will not stop until we get there,” she said. “Winning the first game of the season has ignited a fire in our team and we will keep working hard to keep that fire lit.” The team progressed with their second season win Wednesday night, shutting out William Patterson University 3-0. After winning their first two games, the Lady Hawks return to the field to take on Utica College this Saturday at 1 p.m.