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She shoots, she scores

Crystal Poland of the No. 8 Northeastern University field hockey team scores goals at a clip that would make National Hockey League all-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky tap his stick on the ice in adulation.

The sharpshooting senior forward has scored 13 of the team’s 21 goals through the first seven games of the season, six of which were wins. Through Thursday, Poland was second in the nation in goals scored and goals per game (1.23).

Poland will shoot for her 14th on Friday night at Jordan Field in Cambridge, Mass., against No. 20 William & Mary. The game marks the opening of the team’s Colonial Athletic Association conference schedule, which will feature games against Hofstra in Durham, N.H., and James Madison in Harrisburg, Va.

Head coach Cheryl Murtagh piled high praise upon Poland, who appears poised to shatter last season’s career-best 27 goals in just a fraction of the games.

“Crystal’s a great shooter and a great scorer and that’s not something you can teach,” Murtagh explained. “She has a deceptive shot, which makes it hard for goaltenders to read.”

Allison Conti, a senior midfielder and co-captain of the club, agreed with Murtagh’s assessment of the offensive star, whom she referred to as a “very gifted player.”

The Huskies have already dispatched four ranked opponents, including three victories in one-goal barnburners. Coaches and players noted that big wins in close games have boosted their confidence in making a run through the NCAA tournament in November.

Conti’s not afraid to dream big. “I definitely think we can get to the NCAA Final Four,” she said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind.”

Murtagh referred to last season’s second-place finish in the CAA and a well-deserved NCAA tournament berth as turning points for the program. “It’s always nice to come into a season after the team has had some success,” she said. “For the first time in a long time, we have shown that we can win the big games.”

While Poland’s offensive output has carried Northeastern thus far this season, Conti noted that crafty opponents could start shifting their defensive focus toward her, requiring other Huskies to step up and score big goals.

One of those players is Deirdre Duke, a freshman forward who has scored five goals in her first seven collegiate games.

“I knew she was a very talented player and I wouldn’t be surprised if she has a lot of assists as well,” Conti said.

Added Murtagh: “You never know how freshman will impact a team, but she is certainly fitting in nicely.”