Commentary

Old Dominion unbeaten and unfazed

Originally Published: September 13, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Neither high wind, rising water, hail nor an earthquake has been able to stop Old Dominion's field hockey team so far this season. And neither has any opposing team.

[+] EnlargeEmma Batten
Old Dominion athletics Senior Emma Batten leads undefeated and second-ranked Old Dominion with eight goals through six games this season.

ODU is 6-0 and has already knocked off five teams ranked in the top 10, including defending NCAA champion Maryland. Next up for the No. 2 Monarchs is the No. 1 team: North Carolina.

ODU hopes the ride is uneventful from Norfolk, Va., to Tobacco Road for Friday's game against the Tar Heels and a matchup against Duke on Sunday. Although, it's not as if the Monarchs have been bothered by some of the scrambling they've had to do thus far because of Mother Nature.

Like everyone else on the East Coast, they were a bit shaken by the earthquake on Aug. 23, the epicenter of which wasn't far from Richmond, Va. Then their season-opening matches against Penn State and American were the same August weekend that Hurricane Irene traveled up the Atlantic Coast. So those games were moved from Norfolk to Virginia's campus in Charlottesville.

This past weekend, ODU defeated Syracuse and Ohio State in the Buckeyes' tournament in Columbus. Hail interrupted the Monarchs' schedule departure from Ohio, which was then further delayed by mechanical problems. They made it to their layover city, Nashville, Tenn., but too late for the connecting flight home.

So Monday, they got on another flight, this one to Orlanda, Fla., where after some confusion about their boarding passes, they were set to depart for Virginia … but then had to wait for a delayed crew member.

"The kids were good, though," laughed ODU coach Beth Anders. "They actually were funny through it all. Because what can you do?"

But it says something about the team bond that ODU has formed this season that these inconveniences have been essentially ignored by the players. Anders thought she had a very good group, and knew they'd have to hit the ground running because of the typical killer schedule that the program plays.

Emma Batten, one of two seniors on the squad from the United Kingdom who'd previously played collegiately in their home country, leads ODU with eight goals.

As to the fact that ODU has given up just five goals in six games against a slate of NCAA championship contenders, Anders said that speaks to the players' devotion to setting the bar high.

"They made it their goal that they wanted to be one of the best defensive teams in the nation this year," she said. "They decided that last spring."

Anders, a native of Norristown, Pa., is in her 29th season at ODU. The funny thing is, she's serious when she says that every year, "I feel as if this is my first season I've ever coached."

By that, she means she's just as excited to get started and just as enthusiastic about every practice and every match. You can only feel that way for this long if you truly love a sport, and that is one of Anders' hallmarks as a coach.

She grew up loving the Philadelphia Flyers -- she's still a fan -- and translated some of that affection for ice hockey into a career-long devotion to field hockey. Her program has won more NCAA championships -- nine -- than any other school. But none have come since 2000.

"I think it's just hard to keep a winning culture over a long time," Anders said. "For a couple of years, we lost that for whatever reasons. To work at bringing that back is a difficult thing to do. I'm proud of the way last year's team responded. Now this group has responded, too."

Stanford's fast start

It's not as if anybody ever expects Stanford, six-time national champions in women's volleyball, to have anything like a "down" season. That said, the Cardinal graduated three All-Americans from last year -- Alix Klineman, Cassidy Lichtman and Gabi Ailes -- and it was thought that Stanford might need to work its way throughout the season toward Final Four contender status.

This past weekend, though, the Cardinal, led by sophomore Rachel Williams, moved to 6-0 with two big victories. Yes, the matches were at home, and Stanford's opponents themselves are still filling holes left from last season.

But regardless of any qualifiers, Stanford's 3-1 victory over Penn State and 3-2 triumph against Florida in the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic had to leave the Cardinal feeling like this team is further along than was anticipated.

Another great measurement for that, though, will come Tuesday, when Stanford -- now ranked No. 2 nationally -- makes the short trip to Berkeley to face rival Cal. The Bears are ranked No. 1 and also are undefeated.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.