OXFORD, Ohio – Coming off one of the most successful seasons in team history, the Miami University field hockey team knows there are big expectations for 2013. After winning their second Mid-American Conference regular-season championship in two seasons and their first-ever MAC Tournament championship in 2012, the RedHawks return 18 letterwinners from that team while bringing in 10 talented newcomers. Head Coach Iñako Puzo heads into his third season excited to see what type of progress the Red and White can make.

“We are facing a great challenge,” said Puzo. “We have reached the moment where we control our own destiny and now we have to decide what kind of program we want to be. The players that we need to make it happen are here. Now it is up to us to work hard, stay disciplined and stay focused during the next two months to get the result we are looking for.”

Miami has spent the past three weeks in training camp preparing for the 2013 season. Junior back Ali Froede has been especially excited with the increase in tempo that the team has been working on.

“One of this year’s main objectives is high intensity,” said Froede. “By bringing that intensity at every practice, we are pushing our offense and defense to be better and creating game-like situations. This high-tempo play is challenging but also fun and pushes everyone on the team to step up and become better players.”

Junior back Shannon Regan admits this preseason has been tough, but it has also been her favorite since arriving.

“I find this year’s preseason a bit more challenging because of the pace that we are playing at,” said Regan. “Even if we only have practice for an hour, we go hard for that hour. Although it is a bit tougher, it's also much more fun to play at a higher level and I know that the team gained a lot from this preseason.”

Junior midfielder Gabby Goldach points out that while the RedHawks are now comfortable with Coach Puzo’s system entering its third season, the challenges come in finding a way to take that next step.

“Of my three preseasons with Iñako, I think this one would be the toughest when it comes to the level of hockey expected,” said Goldach. “We are moving forward as a program, so the intensity of practice is much higher. It requires a higher fitness level, better skills and more composure while playing. Much more is expected from each player. Giving 100% is the only option. We are fortunate that we have a coach who cares so much about the way we run as opposed to just the distance. Instead of just running us into the ground, our conditioning involves teaching us all how to be efficient runners. Luckily, we are able to focus on this kind of conditioning because so many players come into preseason fit.” 

Miami will miss the offensive production of 2012 MAC Player of the Year Olivia Miller, who graduated, but returns plenty of offensive firepower. Sophomore midfielder Bea Dechant who was the 2012 MAC Freshman of the Year and the 2012 MAC Tournament MVP, is the top returning scorer with nine goals and six assists last season.

Other key returners include senior goalkeeper Sarah Mueller who joined Miller and Dechant on the All-MAC First Team squad a year ago. She finished the season with 136 saves and a 2.17 GAA. Senior forward Emily Gruesser and junior forward Valentina Neira return after each earning a spot on the 2012 All-MAC Second Team. Gruesser scored eight goals and four assists last season, while Neira had seven goals and five assists. Senior forward Alyssa Logan also will be counted on to provide offense and leadership after scoring six goals and three assists in 2012.

After being on the young side each of the past two seasons, Miami has a veteran look in 2013 with six seniors and six juniors. Based on their experience and the RedHawks’ performance last season, Mueller realizes that there are high expectations going in to 2013

“We set a high standard last year and I am sure the other teams in the MAC now know what we are capable of,” said Mueller. “So I guess one could say that we do have a target on our backs, however we also know ourselves that we can make it work. “We have more and much higher ambitions and goals for ourselves, the team and the upcoming season.”

Fellow senior Gruesser agreed.

“I think last year we started to make a name for ourselves outside the conference, but I hope to really make a statement this year,” said Gruesser. “I don't want to just be a big threat in the MAC, but I want teams across the country to really have to worry about playing us. Obviously, in MAC play I would love to earn back-to-back conference and tournament titles.”

Senior midfielder Jordan Long knows that entering her final season she has the chance to leave her footprint on the program as part of the winningest class in team history, and she has lofty goals for the year.

“For our program, I have high expectations to accomplish even more than we did in the past season,” said Long. “As part of the senior class, I want to leave behind a legacy of a culture of champions and leaders on and off the field. With continued hard work, intensity and commitment--Miami field hockey will continue to rise in academics and athletics.” 

A challenging schedule awaits the RedHawks. Six preseason top-20 teams, led by third-ranked Maryland and sixth-ranked Penn State will test Miami going into its conference season. Puzo believes a difficult non-conference schedule prepares the team for MAC play.

“Miami must be a contender every season for the MAC Championship. It is our obligation and main goal,” said Puzo. “But we also want to be ready to play any kind of team in any kind of circumstance. We want to be able to compete against anyone in the country.”

This weekend, Miami travels to the states of North Carolina and Virginia for a stretch of three games in four days. On Friday, the RedHawks take on 18th-ranked Wake Forest at 7 p.m. Miami then heads to Farmville, Va. on Sunday to take on Radford in a neutral site game at 11 a.m. It will conclude the road trip Monday against host Longwood at noon.

Wake Forest was 9-11 last season and 1-4 in the ACC. The Demon Deacons played an extremely difficult schedule last year, facing 12 ranked opponents in their 20 games. Their top returning player is forward Jess McFayden, who had eight goals and six assists for 22 points in 2012.

Radford finished last season with a 2-19 record, 2-6 in the NorPac Conference. Its top returning player is sophomore midfielder Stacey MacKintosh, who had nine goals and one assist for 19 points last season.

Longwood was 8-13 last season with a 6-2 record in the NorPac. A strong offensive team, they scored 55 goals in 2012, an average of 2.61 per game, but gave up a total of 62 goals, an average of 2.95 per game. The Lancers’ top returning player is senior midfielder Stacey de Grandhomme, who recorded 17 goals and four assists for 38 points in 2012.

Miami is 0-2 all-time against both Wake Forest and Radford, while it is 2-0 all-time against Longwood. The Lancers are the only team of the three the RedHawks played last season, with Miami erasing a 3-0 deficit to earn a 6-4 win on Sept. 8, 2012 in Oxford. Gruesser led the RedHawk attack with two goals.

Miami will face a pair of ranked teams the following weekend in Evanston, Ill. The RedHawks take on 16th-ranked Boston University on Sunday, Sept. 8 at 1 p.m. (EDT) in a neutral site contest. They will then face the host, 11th-ranked Northwestern on Monday, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. (EDT).