ATHENS, Ohio – The 2022 season was full of lessons for Ohio. It had one of the youngest teams in Division I and a short bench. Ohio missed the Mid-American Conference Tournament by one game, but this season, Ohio doesn’t plan to miss out on anything.
The Bobcats are returning all but three members of last year’s squad, including First-Team All-MAC nominee Katelyn Whittle and All-Freshman team member Anouk Plaehn. Also coming back is Weslee Littlefield, who started in all 17 of the Bobcats’ games last season.
Despite just a little over one-third of the Bobcats’ roster being upperclassmen, head coach Ali Johnstone believes that last season tailored them to succeed in 2023.
“They were thrown into the fire and they learned to lead really quickly, which was cool to see,” Johnstone said. “That part was really fun. There were some ups and downs just like any team and since the majority were freshmen and sophomores, it was a steep curve learning to lead.”
Whittle shared a similar outlook.
“It makes you feel very, very confident going into the season having most of our returners coming against. That’s just a good way to have good leadership on the team and we have experience, so I think that puts confidence under our belt that we are still what we were last year, but we’re still ever improving and we have new faces on the team,” she said.
Ohio is bringing in six freshmen this season that have a bounty of field hockey experience. Whittle and Johnstone are excited to help the new members of the team get acclimated to Athens and the program. Among those freshmen are Johanna Hildebrandt, who has an indoor field hockey German National Championship to her name.
Johnstone and assistant coach Louisa Boddy are excited to see how the incoming freshman mesh with the returners. Ohio has a flexible team, meaning that almost everyone can play a different position if needed. It’s an added element to its leadership.
Leadership is going to come into play when Ohio travels to take on its nonconference schedule. The majority of Ohio’s nonconference games come at the beginning of the season, including trips to American and Maine.
“I’m excited to play American because that’s close to home for me in Washington, D.C.,” Whittle said. “We’re going to be flying up to Maine and this is my first time flying in my four years of being here. It’s going to be an awesome homecoming for the Littlefield sisters and I know there’s going to be a lot of people there supporting them. I’m very excited for that trip.”
However, the Bobcats’ nonconference schedule does not stop there. They have two tough matchups wedged into MAC play.
On Oct. 8, Wake Forest is set to travel to Athens for the first time since 2014. Wake Forest finished No. 14 last season and received a number of transfers to reload the team. A week later, Ohio will hit the road to Evanston, Illinois, to take on the 2022 NCAA Championship runner-ups, Northwestern.
Including its exhibitions, Ohio is set to take on four top 25 opponents in 2023.
This might be the toughest schedule we’ve ever put together with nonconference,” Johnstone said.”
The rigor won’t go away after the nonconference portion is over, though. Every year’s a battle for the top of the MAC, and Ohio knows that. It is eager to get back onto the field.
“I see us as being very gritty and we do play with a lot of passion. I know our team is very eager and excited to get started with this season and preseason,” Whittle said. “I think sticking to our values as a team and sticking to what we know, what we do well, will be very crucial to us.”
The new season might be challenging for the Bobcats, but they’re ready for anything.