The 2014 season was groundbreaking for Stanford field hockey, which set numerous program records and won its first NCAA Tournament game in school history.
The Cardinal opens its season at home on Friday against NCAA runner-up Syracuse at 4 p.m., and hosts NCAA quarterfinalist Duke on Sunday at 2 p.m. Both games will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
Sixth year Cardinal head coach Tara Danielson remains adamant that improvement is paramount for Stanford, which lost a strong senior class in the offseason but returns a talented young core of playmakers.
"The expectation for this team is to build throughout the year and to get a little bit better each day," Danielson said. "We are building the team around being 'for the team', and we want to make sure each person is giving their best and finding ways to be useful for the team."
The Cardinal returns 15 letterwinners from last season but will have a large hole to fill after the graduation of five seniors, including first-team All-American Kelsey Harbin. Danielson sees it as an opportunity for the 2015 squad to find its own identity.
"Kelsey and the entire senior class were very intentional in what they wanted to accomplish," said Danielson. "It is always difficult to see a very experienced class leave but I am excited for this young, impressive, hard-working team."
Stanford set program-bests in wins (19), win streak (12) and national ranking (No. 3, Oct. 14-Nov. 2) in 2014, while going 4-1 against top 10 and 6-2 against top 20 opponents. This all culminated in Stanford winning its first NCAA Tournament game, a 2-1 overtime victory against No. 10 Louisville.
Harbin and Dulcie Davies were named Longstreth/NFHCA First Team All-Americans in 2014. Stanford garnered four Longstreth/NFHCA All-Region selections in Harbin, Davies, Alex McCawley, and Maddie Secco.
Five NorPac Conference honors were earned by Cardinal personnel, including Player of the Year (Harbin), Defensive Player of the Year (Davies), Offensive Player of the Year (McCawley), Rookie of the Year (Katie Keyser) and Coach of the Year (Danielson).
Stanford's typically strong schedule includes six teams who finished 2014 in the top-20. The Cardinal will face two-time defending national champion No. 1 Connecticut (Sept. 25), NCAA runner-up No. 4 Syracuse (Aug. 28), NCAA quarterfinalist No. 5 Duke (Aug. 30), Kent State (Sept. 13) and No. 10 Northwestern (Oct. 9) as part of one of the nation's most difficult nonconference schedules.
Stanford also begins its tenure in the America East along with previous NorPac members California, Pacific and UC Davis. The quartet joins current members Albany, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and UMass-Lowell. The Cardinal will not see any of the new members of the league until the America East Tournament on Nov. 5-8.
Stanford is ranked sixth in the Penn Monto/NFHCA Preseason Top 20 Coaches Poll, the highest preseason ranking in program history. This marks the sixth season in a row Stanford has been recognized in the poll. The Cardinal will face seven teams ranked in the preseason poll, including No. 1 Connecticut, No. 4 Syracuse, No. 5 Duke, No. 10 Northwestern, No. 14 Michigan, No. 17 Iowa and No. 18 Massachusetts.
The Class of 2019 includes Jordan Barry, Emma Christus, Julia DiTosto, Heather Louden, and Kennedy Schumacher. The group will look to make an immediate impact, as freshmen often have done in Danielson's tenure on The Farm.
"Every year freshmen come in and find a spot, and some freshmen are able to find a role quicker than others," said Danielson. "I think these freshmen are equally talented and hardworking so they can potentially add to the program very quickly."
Several Cardinal standouts represented their countries in the offseason. Sophomore Sarah Helgeson was named to Team USA's U-21 roster with hopes of representing her country at next summer's Junior Pan American Games in Trinidad and Tobago.
Secco, a senior, represented Team Canada at the Valencia Hockey World League Semi-Finals in June to pursue a spot in the final competition and a roster spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics.