Paul Caddy is an optimistic guy. He felt that his UConn field hockey team would be able to get most of its 17 scheduled games in during the sport’s shortened spring season.
But UConn ended up missing seven games, including its last three, due to COVID-19 related issues. The Huskies (9-1) haven’t played a game since April 4. They have practiced all together since Monday. They will open the Big East Tournament against Temple on Thursday at 1 p.m. at Villanova. Liberty and Old Dominion will play in the other semifinal, and the winners will meet Saturday at Villanova for the championship.
The conference champion will get an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which begins the following weekend. UConn, which has won the last eight Big East titles and 19 overall, is ranked No. 7 in the latest Penn Monto/NFHCA national coaches poll.
“I only thought we’d miss one or two [games],” said Caddy, in his first year as coach after taking over for Nancy Stevens, who retired last summer after winning 700 games and three NCAA titles. “I went into it probably a bit too optimistic. We’d done well in this area of the country with COVID, and we did a great job until the last minute.
“Maybe I should have gone in more pessimistic because I was disappointed, and the team was disappointed to miss the games. We had to regroup. It was a little bit of an emotional roller coaster.”
Caddy, who was Stevens’ assistant coach then associate head coach for 19 years, became a head coach at a chaotic time. The fall season was moved to the spring. His team was missing two of its top players from England — juniors Anna Wray and Abby Gooderman — who decided not to come to the U.S. to play this season because of the pandemic but plan to be back in the fall.
The Huskies played their first game on Feb. 13, a 5-0 victory over Hofstra, then their next three games were canceled due to COVID-19.
“There’s things that just wouldn’t happen in a normal year,” Caddy said. “Losing games, losing players.
“I don’t think there will be a year in the future that’s as hard as this one. You can look back at this year and say, ‘I’m probably not going to have a harder year than this.’ So it’s a positive.”
UConn, whose only loss was 4-0 to No. 6-ranked Liberty on March 14, is led offensively by Sophie Hamilton, a sophomore midfielder from Bruton, England, who has 15 goals and 13 assists.
“If she’s not the best player in the country, she’s in the top two,” Caddy said.
Junior goalkeeper Cheyenne Sprecher has given up six goals, all to Liberty.
The NCAA Tournament will feature 12 teams, with 10 automatic bids from conference championships and two at-large bids. Six teams will play at Penn State and the other six at the University of North Carolina, and the Final Four will take place May 7-9 at the University of North Carolina.
Caddy, the optimist, likes his team’s chances in the Big East and beyond.
“We’re a little inexperienced without Maddy and Abby. The team is not so deep without those two, but we’re very talented,” he said. “It’s a COVID year, so I’m not convinced any of the conferences are playing as good hockey as they have in the past. Our team works hard and plays well together so we have an opportunity.”
Lori Riley can be reached at email@example.com.