By Christopher Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — Despite this being just Candace Waldie’s fifth year overall playing field hockey, she is one of the top forwards nationally, leading all NCAA Division II players in scoring with an average of 3.05 points per game.
The Merrimack junior from North Andover didn’t begin the sport until sophomore year of high school and didn’t play it as a college freshman.
“The reason I started playing field hockey is a lot of girls on my softball team were playing so I was like, ‘Yay, I’ll play another sport just to keep me going,’” Waldie said. “I didn’t really ever think it would catch on like this.”
Through 20 games, Waldie has 24 goals and 13 assists (61 points). Her Warriors team has a 17-3 record and plays Northeast-10 rival UMass Lowell at 4 p.m. Friday in the Division II Final Four at the Cushing Field Complex in Lowell.
Merrimack and UMass Lowell have developed an even more intense rivalry the past two years. In both 2011 and again this fall, Merrimack beat the River Hawks during the regular season, but then lost to them in the Northeast-10 finals.
This also is the second straight year the Warriors and River Hawks will meet in the Final Four. UMass Lowell posted a 3-1 victory last season.
For obvious reasons, Waldie is pumped for Friday’s game.
“It’s an intense game every time we play them,” she said. “There’s always been a rivalry ... but especially with the huge games we’ve been playing against them. Everyone gets excited for games, but especially against UMass Lowell everyone gets even more pumped up.”
Waldie, a 2010 North Andover graduate, was a superb high school athlete. Her junior and senior years she was an All-Scholastic, Eagle-Tribune All-Star and the CAL Division 1 MVP for field hockey.
But the 2010 Eagle-Tribune Female Athlete of the Year chose to play softball at UMass Amherst.
After one year at UMass Amherst — where she primarily was used as a pinch hitter — Waldie missed playing field hockey and transferred to Merrimack.
Almost a year and a half later, she certainly is glad she made the move.
Merrimack field hockey has been a powerhouse since Waldie joined the program last fall.
The Warriors had their best season in program history last year when they made their first ever Division II tournament appearance and finished 17-3.
Merrimack has had equal success this year, outscoring their 20 opponents 78-25 and outshooting them 510-257.
Waldie has found great on-the-field chemistry with Merrimack senior April Daugherty, who with 21 goals and 10 assists (52 points) is the fifth-leading scorer in the nation.
“Me and April work great together,” Waldie said. “That’s where a lot of the assists come in and a lot of the goals come in. Every line works well together.”
Waldie is much improved from last year when she finished with five goals and two assists (12 points) in 19 games, including 16 starts.
She didn’t have much time to prepare for last fall after missing her freshman field hockey campaign and playing softball the previous spring.
“It was a lot nicer just to be able to focus on field hockey (this past offseason),” Waldie said. “Last year I was kind of all over the place. I wasn’t really sure what to expect coming into this school. And (this past year) was really nice. I was able to focus and really work hard and strive for the goals we as a team really wanted to reach for.”
Waldie, a human development/education major, doesn’t keep tabs on her stats, but her dad Tim Waldie does.
“I just like to go out and play,” Waldie said. “But I’ll come home from a game and he’ll bring up the computer and tell me everything. He’s all excited about the stats. But I could care less as long as we get a win.”
Friday’s game should be interesting. Waldie said this year’s NE-10 tourney final against UMass Lowell was a tough game.
“It definitely could have gone either way though,” Waldie said about Merrimack’s 1-0 loss. “It was really a not-so-great goal. That game didn’t really put us down. We know we can play them and that we can win against them. It’s going to be a tough battle.
“They have speed,” she added about UMass Lowell. “They’re a very similar team to us. We have a lot of speed as well. It’s a good matchup.”