Field hockey wins national championship
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 19, 2012 08:11
One game into the 2012 season, it looked like it would be a long fall for the 0−1 Jumbos, as Tufts traveled to play national No. 1 Middlebury and gave up five straight goals to their conference rivals in a 5−2 loss. But ironically, in the end their season was the longest of any Div. III field hockey team’s. On Sept. 8, they got blown out, but on Nov. 18, they claimed that No. 1 spot for themselves.
Yesterday, Tufts stormed past Montclair State to become the 2012 Div. III National Champion, seizing its 19th win of the season in historic fashion. The Jumbos became the second Tufts team to win an NCAA team title and the first women’s team to do so.
“To win a national championship has been a dream for all of us and is a testament to what a great team this is,” senior co−captain Lia Sagerman said. “It has truly been the definition of a total team effort and perseverance. We had to earn every win this season, and to get to this final game and come away with the ‘W’ was the perfect ending.”
“I just can’t believe it,” head coach Tina McDavitt added. “We’ve been to the final four −− this is our third time, and losing in double overtime [in 2008] was devastating ... I knew we could do it, but getting here has been a battle. It’s been a tough season. Every game we had to really earn it, and we did.
Tufts used its depth to overcome each obstacle and fought its way through to the final whistle, representative of how the Jumbos have played all season. Several players bodied hard shots, while others dusted themselves off after being taken down hard in transition.
While five seniors led the team throughout the season, it was freshman forward Hannah Park who stepped up to knock both goals in on Sunday. Midway through the second half, Tufts had used five substitutes, while Montclair had used just one, and the Jumbos’ trust in one another manifested itself in their play. On Saturday and Sunday combined, freshmen accounted for all four of the Jumbos’ goals, as well as two of their three assists.
“This is definitely a dream come−true,” Park said. “I remember this summer just thinking how awesome it would be just to make it to the national championship. Just being here has been awesome, the entire thing.”
The game was a culmination of a whirlwind playoff schedule. In the past three weeks the Jumbos played eight times and won seven, including five straight elimination games. Despite a grueling schedule, exacerbated by freak snow storms and six−hour drives to and from Geneva, New York, Tufts stayed mentally and physically tough.
“Watching Montclair [in Saturday’s semifinals], I have a lot of respect for [coach] Beth [Gottung] and her team, and their awesome, very fit, great field hockey players,” McDavitt said. “I knew it was going to be a battle but I was also confident in my team and I knew if we came out to play ... that we were going to win.”
The Jumbos pressured early and had a chance for an early lead when Sagerman sent a cross into senior forward Kelsey Perkins, who met the ball in front of the cage. The ball ricocheted around but the Jumbos, unable to put it in, were awarded the game’s first penalty corner. Junior midfielder Emily Cannon received the ball on top of the circle and sent it to freshman midfielder Dakota Sikes−Keilp, but the duo was unable to find the cage on consecutive corners.
After their initial control of the team, things turned bleak for the Jumbos when the Red Hawks struck first in the 11th minute. Receiving a corner insert, junior co−captain defender Sierra Rauchbach sent a ball across to senior forward Frances Schaefer near the right side of the cage. Sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Keenan and senior defender Rachel Gerhardt blocked Schaefer’s initial shot, but she collected her own rebound and took a risky, low−angle shot that slid past Keenan and into the back corner of the cage.
“[At that point] we just talked about playing our game,” McDavitt said. “I think this season we’ve had a lot of challenging games, playing in the NESCAC. A lot of games, we’ve been tied 0−0 or down by a goal, and this team has had to work through that and been able to get goals later in the game or come back from a deficit. I just had confidence in them that they would do that. We talked about just playing our game plan, working the ball to the outside and shutting down their key players.”
Five minutes later, the Jumbos converted on a penalty corner of their own. Sikes−Keilp received the insert at the top of the circle and sent a rocket at senior goalkeeper Megan Bosland. Executing a skill they have worked on all season, the Jumbos controlled the loose ball as Park grabbed the rebound and notched the tying score.
From then on, momentum shifted. Minutes later, Park looked to double the Jumbos’ lead as she sent a pass in front of the cage, but no one was there to receive the ball on the back end.
Then, with fewer than 10 minutes remaining in the half, Gerhardt delivered the ball into Montclair’s end and attempted to connect with Park and sophomore forward Brittany Norfleet inside the circle. The pass was broken up, but the Jumbos earned yet another penalty corner.
Perkins inserted to Sikes−Keilp on top of the circle, and the freshman drove in with another hard shot. In a heads−up play, freshman midfielder Alexandra Jamison gathered the deflection and pushed it to Park, who finished the shot, pushing the Jumbos ahead of the Red Hawks.
“My goals were both off of corners,” Park said. “My first one was a rebound off the goalie, and I was able to get it into the far post. My second one was a deflection off a shot.”