Miami University’s RedHawks field hockey team emerged from the Sunshine State victorious last weekend after facing off against two teams at the start of the season. The RedHawks, the six-time reigning champs of the Mid-American Conference (MAC), played against the University of California (UC) Golden Bears and the UC Davis Aggies.
Miami head coach Iñako Puzo is known for testing his team early in seasons, often with games at some of the best field hockey programs in the country. Puzo again tested his team’s get-down this year in a slightly different way (not to say that they don’t also play multiple very high caliber opponents in coming weeks).
“It was definitely pretty chaotic at times,” senior midfielder Mary Kate Barbee said about the trip. “We were on time for all of our flights which was good.”
The RedHawks flew out of Cincinnati and arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the team had the chance to sightsee around San Francisco. The RedHawks perused the iconic Full House house, visited stunning Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, went to the Golden Gate Bridge and saw Alcatraz in the distance. Barbee said the sightseeing was an unforgettable experience, a memory she’ll have with her RedHawk teammates forever.
On Friday, the RedHawks played their first game of the year against the California Golden Bears.
“It was cool because the field was literally on top of a parking garage in the middle of the city,” senior goalkeeper Isabelle Perese said.
California’s field hockey team plays at Underhill Field, which is nestled among campus buildings and directly above four levels of parking.
Miami got the chance to practice a couple of times on top of the parking garage, which Perese said helps her get used to the turf. This certainly helped her set her program-record 22nd career shutout on Friday.
Barbee scored the first goal of the team’s season in that game when she picked up a loose ball near the top of the circle and smacked it into the corner following a few quick dribbles.
“There’s a lot of anxiety when you’re starting off a season,” Barbee said. “It feels so good to start the season strong, just like that you’re winning in the first game against a really good opponent.
Miami won 2-0 behind a six-save shutout from Perese and another tally from junior midfielder Carlie Servis. Perese holds the Miami career record for shutouts, now with 22. California is one of the better teams in the country, and Perese appreciated the early test.
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“Being under pressure right off the bat is something that I enjoy,” Perese said. “It kind of forces you into the fire. It shows you who’s done the work over summer.”
Puzo has led the team to six straight Mid-American Conference regular season titles, and tournament championship wins too all those years but 2020, when the tournament wasn’t played. After the game on Friday, Puzo was so impressed, he didn’t give his usual post game review of what the team could have done better.
“It definitely takes a lot for him to not go through his post-game speech,” Barbee said with a chuckle. “He was really happy.”
Following the win at Berkeley, the RedHawks traveled directly to UC Davis, about 60 miles up Interstate-80.
“We played [UC Davis] the very next day,” Perese said. “We typically don’t do back to back games. It was super hot at Davis, but it was also a very cool experience. Their field is right next to a cow pasture, so when we drove up we’re like ‘Wait? Are we in the right spot?’”
The stark difference in scenery didn’t disturb the RedHawks, however, because they beat UC Davis 2-1 and allowed just one shot on goal. Servis scored her second goal in as many games to start the RedHawk scoring. Now, just two games into the season, her next tally will break her career high for a season.
After UC Davis scored to tie the game about halfway through the third quarter, star senior striker Claudia Negrete Garcia scored the winning goal less than a minute into the fourth. She was assisted by senior striker Paula Peña Martinez.
“We were really proud of ourselves,” Barbee said. “The second game especially was just a grind to win. We played with a lot of heart. A lot of us were tired … There’s no better sense of accomplishment when you can win both games that far from home.”
The team also got to have some fun together during the trip. Shortly after the game at Davis, the team stopped at famous Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco to procure In-n-Out Burger, which most players hadn’t tried before.
“Thirty of us walk into this restaurant,” Perese said. “They’re probably like ‘No! This is not what we want!’”
After that, the RedHawks boarded a red-eye flight back from San Francisco to Cincinnati with a stop in Charlotte.
“To be able to come back 2-0, having played two super difficult teams on their home turf, I think that just put into perspective what this team can do,” Perese said.
This weekend the RedHawks are back home, hosting the Theresa Check Invitational. You can catch the RedHawks playing St. Francis at noon on Saturday and then against Indiana at 4 p.m. on Monday, both at the Miami Field Hockey Complex.
“We feel like we’re in the best possible situation for this coming weekend,” Barbee said. “We’re all ready and excited for our home games, to have our fans, playing on our turf. We’re really confident.”