TOWSON, Md. - Kelly Mattingly is fully committed to changing the equation by which we know Towson field hockey, so much so that she’s unwittingly willing to twist the very laws of mathematics.
Mattingly, a defender and midfielder, says this year’s Tiger squad is vastly different than the one that posted a 1-18 record last year.
“Oh my gosh,” said Mattingly, a junior from Fallston, Md. “It’s like a 360 (degree turn) from last year. We’ve come so far, even from the spring. In the spring, we looked a lot better than we did in the fall. Now, even from then, I feel like we’re 10 times better.”
By now, you’ve probably picked up on the flaw in Mattingly’s logic. A 360 degree turn would get her and her teammates right back where they were and no one, least of all Mattingly, wants any part of that.
The kicker to all of this comes when you consider what Mattingly wants to be when she graduates from Towson.
A high school math teacher.
“Oh, wow,” said Mattingly with a laugh, when told of her faux pas. “I might be banned (from teaching).”
Funny mistake notwithstanding, Mattingly truly is convinced that the field hockey team is a markedly improved team over the 2012-13 edition, with the biggest difference coming with the import of a new coaching staff.
According to Mattingly, head coach Carly Powell and assistant Christina Armer have not only worked to sharpen the team’s skill level, they’ve also imbued them with a renewed sense of poise and self-assurance that no matter what happens, they can still win.
“Everyone has taken their role really seriously and has wanted to improve,” said Mattingly. “Our coaches have instilled that confidence in us. They’ve made sure that we know that when we step onto the field that no one’s going to beat us. It (occasional losses) is going to happen, but we have that confidence.”
The Tigers, who lost 11 games last year by three goals or more, are already more competitive this year. They dropped their opening games to Sacred Heart and Davidson by only one goal each.
The team’s conditioning is improved, according to Mattingly, and it has to be. With only 16 players on the roster, the Tigers are down to just three substitutes for position players, which means fitness will be at a premium.
“It’s hard,” said Mattingly. “Coach warned us from day one. She was saying, ‘You really need to be prepared to be able to play 70 minutes of 11-on-11 and then two 15-minute periods of seven-on-seven.’”
“We were like, ‘Yeah, we get it. We get the concept.’ But we didn’t actually think it would happen, and then when it was actually happening (in Friday’s opener), it was pretty difficult. And the weather really didn’t help that.”
Mattingly logged a career-high 100 minutes in Friday’s game, displaying the kind of leadership Powell expected when she named Mattingly a team captain.
Mattingly has had leadership moments in her first two Towson seasons, but will be counted on to carry a bigger mantle this year.
“I honestly didn’t expect to come into my junior year and to completely take a big role with the team and to try to push the girls and take them under my wing,” said Mattingly.
One of Mattingly’s biggest challenges is to help the five freshmen on the roster to adapt to the greater demands of college field hockey.
“I have to just tell the freshmen how important they are to the team and get their confidence up and help them realize how good they actually are, because the freshmen are amazing,” said Mattingly.
Mattingly’s leadership skills will also be tested through Towson’s schedule. After Sunday’s home game against Lehigh, the Tigers won’t play at home for nearly a month, embarking on a six-game road trip. And even when they return to Unitas Stadium on October 4, they’ll only have three more home games left.
At the end of it all, Mattingly expects that the Tigers will at least qualify for the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
“Last year, we were the only team that didn’t go,” said Mattingly. “That’s unacceptable.”
Reaching the CAA would mean more wins. And that's an equation Mattingly and the Tigers would gladly embrace.