• 75°

Field hockey team has challenging schedule

Matchups against three teams that finished in the NCAA RPI top 10 last season and a home-heavy October highlight the Longwood field hockey program’s 2021 schedule, announced recently by head coach Iain Byers.

Entering year 14 under Byers, the Lancers will navigate a 15-game gauntlet that features high-profile showdowns against last year’s national powerhouses Liberty, Miami (Ohio) and Old Dominion, and a seven-game Mid-American Conference schedule. The Lancers’ first six games will all be against non-conference foes, which preempt a Mid-American Conference lineup through which Longwood has navigated four top-four finishes within the past five seasons.

Select Longwood field hockey games will air live on ESPN+, and those broadcast dates will be announced later this fall.

In total, five of Longwood’s foes in 2021 finished the year ranked in the top 25 of the NCAA RPI, while Liberty, Miami (Ohio) and Old Dominion were all ranked in the NFHCA Coaches Poll. Collectively, Longwood’s upcoming non-conference opponents went a combined 45-28 overall and 27-17 in their respective conferences this past spring.

“We are excited about the quality of our opposition this year,” Byers said. “It will be good to play more teams outside our conference and challenge ourselves.”

Eight home games at Elizabeth Burger Jackson Field also dot the schedule, with bouts lined up against MAC rivals Appalachian State (Oct. 15), Ball State (Oct. 22) Bellarmine (Sept. 18) and Central Michigan (Oct. 1) and non-conference foes Davidson (Oct. 10), Liberty (Oct. 17), Towson (Sept. 3) and William & Mary (Sept. 12).

Liberty is the highest-ranked opponent on Longwood’s schedule, finishing the 2020-21 season ranked No. 8 in the NFHCA Coaches Poll and No. 3 in the NCAA RPI. The Flames are one of Longwood’s three non-conference foes to win or finish runner-up in their conference last year, joining Big East tournament runner-up Old Dominion, which finished No. 9 in the 2020-21 RPI, and CAA regular-season runner-up William & Mary, which went 3-1 in conference play.

In the MAC, the Lancers will once again be vying for a top spot amidst perennial powerhouses Kent State and Miami. Coming off a third-place finish this past season that included a win over perennial championship contender Kent State for a second straight year, Longwood has achieved top-three finishes in four of the past five seasons and boasts a 20-15 conference record in that span.

This year’s MAC gauntlet gives the Lancers an early shot at taking down reigning champion Miami in a Sept. 24 showdown that sends them to the RedHawks’ home in Oxford, Ohio. They will stick around in Oxford for a neutral-site matchup against Saint Francis one day later before returning to Farmville for another MAC showdown against Central Michigan on Oct. 1.

A trip to Kent State follows on Oct. 8, which will give the Lancers and Golden Flashes a chance to settle last year’s series split, which saw Longwood win the opener 1-0 and Kent State fight back for a 2-1 overtime in the finale. The Lancers then open up a four-game homestand against Davidson on Oct. 10 and follow with home battles against Appalachian State (Oct. 15), Liberty (Oct. 17) and – in the regular-season home finale – Ball State on Oct. 22.

The Lancers’ final match of the year will be on the road at MAC rival Ohio on Saturday, Oct. 30. The MAC will not host a postseason championship tournament in 2021, instead crowning the regular-season champion as the conference title-holder.

Leading this year’s Lancer team will be a group of nine returning starters, including three-time All-MAC first-team defender Luna Lopez, All-MAC midfielder Sophia Loscher and returning senior starters Madison Nuckols, Rio Weber and Jamie Wright. In total, the Lancers return 64% of their goals and 90% of their assists from last season.