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Field Hockey | Jumbos storm to the title: A look inside their run

Freshmen lead the way to program’s first title

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 08:11

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Courtesy Kevin Colton / William Smith College

Senior co-captain Rachel Gerhardt (left), senior forward Kelsey Perkins (center), and senior co-captain Lia Sagerman celebrate with the championship trophy shortly after the Jumbos’ victory over the Red Hawks.

On the afternoon of Nov. 3, things weren’t looking so bright for the field hockey team.

Tufts had just been smacked around by a Bowdoin team in the NESCAC semifinals that it had beaten earlier in the year, snapping the team’s 14−game winning streak in a 4−1 loss that forced it out of the tournament.

Little did they know, the Jumbos were ready for yet another winning streak — a historic one for Tufts athletics, as it earned the team its first Div. III National Championship in program history.

Tufts’ loss to Bowdoin ended up being a blessing in disguise — a message that they were, in fact, beatable.

“That loss was probably one of the best things that could’ve happened to this team,” sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Keenan said. “It refocused us, and we realized that we have to earn every win and that they’re not going to come easy to us. Coming back from that, we were able to focus our energy and focus ourselves.”

That renewed focus emerged quickly for Tufts, which rebounded from the Bowdoin loss by trouncing Castleton 8−0 in the first round of the NCAAs. With that, the Jumbos’ offense came alive again, and continued on to an 18−4 goal differential for the tournament.

After beating host William Smith 4−2 in the second round, Tufts’ moment to declare itself as real contenders for the NCAA crown came in the elite eight, where it was time for a rematch with Bowdoin.

For years, the Polar Bears had stymied the Jumbos in postseason play, and to overcome them and turn that frustration into a victory, the Jumbos delivered a helping of late−game drama. Down a goal in the second half, seniors Chelsea Yogerst and co−captain Lia Sagerman struck twice in 10 minutes to pull the Jumbos to the lead.

“It was awesome,” freshman forward Hannah Park said. “I think we definitely knew what we needed to do to win the game after a really bad loss.”

On the same day, Tufts got a bit of help on their side of the bracket, as top−ranked Middlebury was downed by the previously unranked Depauw, giving Tufts a definitively easier matchup in the national semifinal.

Against the Tigers, the Jumbos’ defense held their opponents to their eighth and final shutout of the season, winning 2−0 to earn a spot in the national championship game.

“We really wanted to take it one game at a time,” Keenan said. “Especially in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, I don’t think we were looking at the national championship. It’s always kind of been in the back of our minds, but it wasn’t until the game [on Sunday that] we really got the idea that the national championship was ours to take.”

In the final, the Jumbos entered halftime with a 2−1 lead and clung to that lead with all they had, slowly watching time tick off the clock as they inched closer to their title.

“The last 20 minutes were probably the longest 20 minutes of my life,” Keenan said.

But when the game was finally over, the celebration was ready to begin. The Jumbo sideline burst onto the field to meet the players on the field, forming a circle of hugs, cheers and screams.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more happy in my entire life,” Keenan said. “All the hard work, all the dreams of every college athlete turned into a national championship. I couldn’t think of a better team to share it with.”

After the team had received their individual plaques and the team trophy had been hoisted, Park was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after her two goals in the final, to go along with her two assists in the tournament.

“I was definitely not expecting it,” Park said of the award. “It was just the best feeling in the world. I can’t even describe it.”

In the last two games of the tournament, all four of the Jumbos’ goals were scored by freshmen, with forward Rachel Terveer and midfielder Dakota Sikes−Keilp netting scores for the Jumbos in the semifinal. Although Tufts was led by a strong core of upperclassmen, it was the freshmen that gave the team the final push towards the title by putting in decisive and crucial goals throughout the latter half of the season.

“The freshman class is very strong,” Park said. “But we definitely look up to our upperclassmen for help. That’s how we ended up so strong.”

With that guidance, the Jumbos were able to steer through some very tight games early in the season, and then managed to hold on for dear life and win Tufts’ first women’s team NCAA title.

“This entire season we knew that after we had our 10−game winning streak that we could do this,” Park said. “We [could be] put in any position and we could come out.”

The Jumbos did just that, and a program that has come so close to being named the best for so many years can finally place that crown upon its head.

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