By Robert Janish
Senior Sports Writer
After a 2-4 nonconference record, the Golden Griffins will travel to Connecticut to take on the Fairfield Stags, which will kick off their 2016 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference schedule. Last year, the two teams met at the Demske Sports Complex in a game that resulted in a 4-1 victory for the Stags. This year, the Griffs hope to reverse their fortunes against their MAAC rival.
Head Coach Todd Clark says it’s important for the team to get back to what got them their first two wins of the year, and “get over the speed bump of a loss,” referring to their matchup against UB, in which they lost 3-0. He emphasized how important it is to get back “in a winning situation and concentrate on what we’ve got to do to win.”
Freshman Gretta Dry believes Coach Clark “has been preparing [the team] very well.” She added that the intensity has helped, as have more difficult drills, such as “focusing on heading and winning the ball in the air. This weekend coming up, we’re going to see a lot of that.”
Junior Shawna Adams says she’s been training hard in preparation for the MAAC schedule. She said, “It’s going to be just like any other game though. We’re just going to have to come together as a team and win.”
Clark continued to stress the importance of this year and of not repeating what occurred last year between the two teams, saying, “It’s all about what we can do now and how can we go forward.” He affirmed that the best thing a freshman player can do when playing in their first conference schedule is to gain a firsthand experience of what it has to offer.
In addition, the nonconference schedule was crucial. The Griffs took full advantage of the time to adjust to players leaving and an incoming crop of new talent.
“It definitely helped a lot,” Dry said, concerning the team’s nonconference schedule. She added that since it’s only her freshman season, the competition is stiffer than that which she previously experienced. Of the games against Buffalo and St. Bonaventure, she commented, “Those two games definitely helped me a lot.” Dry added that she had a bit of a slow start but has been adjusting to the collegiate level of play fairly well.
“We’ve certainly played a few teams that have given us everything that we can handle, and it’s by design,” Clark said. He also stated that Fairfield is a very good team, with a strong nonconference schedule to better prepare for conference play.
Clark said that the key for his team is to not solely be ready to play Fairfield, but to be able to play the best game they can. “We’re so focused on what we need to do and how we get better at it, and if we can do that, that’s what we need to concentrate on. We’re far more worried about, concerned, and focused on replicating our best day,” he said.
For the players, it all comes back to their practice and what they have focused on these past few weeks. The points of emphasis that Clark has used in practice are what the team believes will help them in their conference opening matchup.
“As for myself, and the whole team, we’ve been practicing headballs, winning the balls in the air,” Adams said. She added that Clark is big on practicing and improving within that facet of the game. “I guess that’s what I’ve been working on the most. Heading, winning the ball, holding people off,” Adams said.
Adams hopes the team can win its first MAAC game to help “set the scene, having a winning MAAC.” She added that the team will build off this game, regardless of the final result, and “win or lose, we’re still going for it from that and have a good MAAC season.”
Clark said, “one game, one game, one game; that really is our focus.” Due to the youth and lack of veteran experience on the team, “we don’t have the luxury or the experience to worry about anything but what’s right in front of us.”
“If we want to be undefeated in the MAAC, we have to beat Fairfield,” said Clark. It’s an ambitious goal for any team in the MAAC, and Fairfield is no pushover team to start against. But if the Griffs do win this game, they could be legitimate contenders.