KEENE, N.H.  10/26/11 – If you’re looking for a reason why the Keene State field hockey team won the Little East regular season championship this season and earned home field advantage for the upcoming Conference tournament, you need look no farther than in front of the Owls’ net.

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Keene State Sweeper Kerry Howe, photo courtesy Chris Palermo 

While Keene State has always had a reputation for being able to put the ball in the net, this season it’s also done a great job keeping it out as well. Led by senior sweeper Kerry Howe, the Owls have allowed just three goals in 10 conference contests heading into Saturday’s final LEC game at Framingham State. 

While some might shy away from the position, Howe relishes her role as one of the last lines of defense in the Owls’ backfield. “It can be stressful at times, but I love it,” she said. 

A midfielder at Henry Hudson Regional High School in Highlands, N.J., Howe was moved to the backfield after suffering a series of knee injuries that forced her to miss her senior season and lingered into her sophomore year at Keene State. A healthy Howe was the perfect medicine for the Owls’ defense. “Kerry has improved every season and is on top of her game this year,” said KSC Coach Amy Watson. “She’s a field leader who has embraced her position as sweeper and is the rock of our defense.”

Originally from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., a tiny town in the northern portion of the state noted for having a direct ferry to Wall Street, Howe saw her stock rise in the sport as she grew older. After sampling several sports, Howe became infatuated with field hockey. “The summer after seventh grade, I went to four summer field hockey camps,” said Howe. “When I came back, I was a totally different player.”

Howe honed her skills, playing on a Jersey Intensity club team, where she was coached by Kathleen Kelly, a former Division I coach and four-time All-American at Princeton.

Howe has her share of memories from playing at Henry Hudson High, but none more special than the Admirals’ upset win over perennial power Shore Regional her junior season. Howe’s cousin, Jayne Manigrasso, did the honors, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.

When it came to looking at colleges, Howe favored the Northeast, so she could pursue her other passion of snowboarding. A conversation between her mother, Lynn, and one of Howe’s former elementary school teachers, who happened to go to Keene State, steered Howe to the college in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire.

Once at Keene State, Howe not only had to adjust to a different part of the country, but a new position on the field. Howe said the move from midfield to the backfield was a physical as well as a mental challenge. “It takes a while to get used to being in the back,” she said. "I was always midfield-minded.”

Last season, Howe made the permanent move to the sweeper position. “I was a little apprehensive at the start because all of my mistakes seemed magnified,” said Howe, who earned All-Little East Conference honors last season. “This year I feel more comfortable.”

Playing defense has its drawbacks. Howe says just about every part of her body has felt the sting of the hard ball. “Even when you get hit in the shin guards, it hurts,” she said. 

These days, Howe does a little bit of everything for the Owls. When Howe isn’t minding the net, she’s upfield working as member of Keene State’s penalty corner unit. She is one of the Little East leaders, with six defensive saves to go with a goal and four assists. 

An art major who will be in a MFA program next semester, Howe has expressed her artistic side by welding. One of the pieces she worked on this year was a staircase with balls bouncing down each step.

Keene State hasn’t won a conference championship since her freshman season. Howe hopes the ball bounces the Owls’ way this year. “All the seniors are dying to get it back,” said Howe. "We didn’t really understand the significance of the title when we won it as freshmen, but now we do.”