Field hockey wins national championship
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 19, 2012 08:11
Trailing 2−1, Montclair tried to force the issue as the half drew to a close. The Red Hawks pushed the ball in transition and earned a quick penalty corner. Receiving the insert, junior midfielder Jennifer Tafro wound up and took a strike at goal, but Keenan made the stop. Montclair grabbed the rebound and sent another shot on cage, but Gerhardt backed Keenan up, making a crucial defensive save on the near side of the cage to preserve the Jumbos lead.
Seconds later, Keenan would be tested again as Montclair State was awarded a penalty stroke for a body ball, but the sophomore, who made a penalty stroke stop in last week’s quarterfinal win over Bowdoin, stood confidently. Under the pressure, junior midfielder Stephanie Lewis butchered the strike, sending it wide left of the cage. The Jumbos could breathe easy again, and neither team threatened in the final five minutes of the period.
After the intermission, the Jumbos looked to add to their lead with an insurance goal, but the Red Hawks possessed for nearly 10 minutes. Junior midfielder Stephanie Wan gave the Jumbos a chance in transition, pushing the ball up to junior forward Chelsea Yogerst as she approached the cage, but Montclair’s defense was able to trip up the forward, regaining possession.
At a critical moment, the Red Hawks earned another penalty corner. As the ball was inserted, Cannon came out of the cage to make a challenge at the top of the circle. Tafro slipped by and threaded a shot through Tufts’ defenders and into the cage. For a split−second it appeared the Red Hawks had tied the contest. But in a game−changing decision, the referees conferred and called the goal back, citing Montclair’s premature entrance into the circle.
Montclair went on to earn four consecutive penalty corners in the offensive series, but struggled to convert. In a tense period of play, Keenan made three quick stops on the goal line to deny Tafro and junior midfielder Brooke Hullings the chance to tie.
That would be the last real shot Montclair had to pull the game level. In the final 24 minutes, the Jumbos played excellent lock−down defense and allowed the Red Hawks just a single shot on goal.
“As always, our forwards played awesome defense and our backs worked really hard at breaking up Montclair’s plays before they reached the 25−yard line,” Keenan said. “Our defense did a great job of working together and channeling the other team so that if one defender got beat, another girl was right there to stop her. They also did a great job of stepping up and pressuring the Montclair offense, and not letting them get many good shots off.”
In transition, the Jumbos attempted to push up to Park, but Bosland broke up the connection, coming out of the cage to kick the ball away. Tufts continued to push, and as Sagerman fought to turn the ball in transition, she was tripped up and taken down hard.
Showing evident signs of pain, the senior refused to quit and fought through her final minutes of collegiate play, helping the Jumbos break into the circle for one last chance to score. Following an unsuccessful backhanded shot from Sikes−Keilp, sophomore midfielder Maggie Chapman took a series of corner inserts, but the Jumbos were unable to connect for a final goal.
Fortunately, they had all they needed. In the closing minutes, Montclair was called for several penalties, including a yellow and a green card. The cards allowed the Jumbos to use numbers to their advantage, and Tufts completely stifled the Red Hawks’ ability to move the ball.
“I just think it was an attitude back there [on defense],” McDavitt said. “[Senior defender] Liza Wetzel and Rachel Gerhardt and Bri Keenan are so solid in the backfield, and they were just determined to keep it out, even when they had that stroke against us. We were doing everything we could to keep them off the board, and it was just a total team effort.”
As the Jumbos controlled possession, the final seconds resembled a game of laid−back keep−away more than a national championship game, as Tufts played its man−advantage out, knowing that an NCAA title was theirs at long last.
The victory came on the heels of a 2−0 semifinal defeat of DePauw University on Saturday, during which the Jumbos took down the only team to have beaten Middlebury this season. But the final game was a more fitting testament to the Jumbos’ journey over the season −− it showcased their refusal to give up, even when trailing, and in their balanced, team−oriented approach that made them so hard for opponents to mark and shut−down.
“The game was a total team effort,” Park said. “Everyone came out ready to play. This entire season, we’ve been thought of as the underdogs, but today we proved that we can accomplish anything.”
For the seniors, the championship was the culmination of four years of hard work and disappointment, which often ended in heartbreaking NCAA and NESCAC losses, frequently by a single goal.
“This season has been an incredible ride, with all its challenges and triumphs,” Perkins said. “I really can’t think of a more fitting ending. It’s a huge victory, not only for the 22 girls on our team, but also for our amazing trainers, coaching staff and the members of [Tufts University field hockey] who came before us and raised the standards for our program. So many factors have to align for any team to win a national championship, and we could not be happier to represent all the Jumbos, past and present, with the win.”
In some ways, luck was on the Jumbos’ side this season. DePauw’s defeat of Middlebury in last week’s quarterfinals certainly opened up the field and made the national title theirs for the taking.
The championship came mainly out of the Jumbos’ ability to rely on everyone on the field at any given time, though. Their grit and depth made them impossible to defend and dispirit.