Field Hockey | Matchup with Bowdoin looms in NESCAC semifinals
Tufts looking for 15th victory in a row
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 07:11
For the No. 7 field hockey team, the road to a NESCAC championship almost always runs through Bowdoin. And even though it is No. 1 Middlebury that hosts this weekend’s conference tournament, the Jumbos must first top the No. 6 Polar Bears on Saturday if they hope to advance to Sunday’s finals, in which they will face either the host Panthers or fifth−seeded and No. 12 Amherst.
On Oct. 24, Tufts defeated Bowdoin handily 3−1 at home. This time the Jumbos will play on unfamiliar ground, literally and figuratively, as they face−off on a new Astroturf surface in Vermont. Bowdoin, however, has Astroturf on its home field and will hold an advantage when it comes to the slick surface condition.
“Astroturf is a lot faster and smoother than the surface on Bello,” junior midfielder Emily Cannon said. “It speeds up the pace of the game a lot so we have to be able to adapt quickly. To prepare for that, we played on Astroturf at Harvard once this week, and we also played in the cage to help improve our speed.”
Tufts comes into the semifinal in pursuit of its 15th straight win and hungry for a possible NESCAC championship matchup against the Panthers, who were the only team to beat the Jumbos this fall.
The Polar Bears, however, are similarly motivated. The Jumbos’ Oct. 24 victory snapped an eight−game winning streak for coach Nicky Pearson’s squad and relegated Bowdoin to third place in the conference standings.
A win Saturday will significantly improve the victor’s standing in the upcoming NCAA tournament. For Tufts, such a victory will not come easily. Statistically, the Polar Bears have both scored more goals and allowed fewer than the Jumbos, and Bowdoin’s 0.90 goals−allowed average is significantly lower than the Jumbos’ 1.25.
But in a contest that is likely to go down to the wire, the Jumbos may have the advantage in close−game experience. Down the stretch of their season, the Jumbos won nine games by a single goal, including three overtime victories against conference opponents.
“When you’re only leading by one goal you can’t afford to make mistakes or let the ball into your circle,” Cannon said. “With that experience, we know that we won’t panic. Against Williams we scored with 10 minutes left, and this past Saturday we scored with 12 left. We know what we have to do to get the job done if things get close against Bowdoin.”
Tufts does not top the NESCAC stat sheets in any team or individual categories, but instead relies on balanced play from its entire roster rather than a handful of stars. The puzzle−piece configuration works for the Jumbos and benefits them in close matchups where opponents are unable to target one or two players to shut down.
“I think it’s important to have a balanced team,” Cannon said. “If a team tries to mark one or two players, everyone else can make a contribution and we all do our parts. It makes it close to impossible to shut us down for the whole game.”
On Oct. 24, Tufts consistently controlled the pace of the game, relentlessly employing one of head coach Tina McDavitt’s go−to mottos. Time and time again, the Jumbos proved that their first line of defense is their own offense.
Assisted by seniors and sophomores alike, a freshman, a junior and a senior co−captain all found the scoreboard in the victory. Meanwhile, Tufts held junior forward Katie Riley, who is among the NESCAC’s top goal−scorers and assisters, without a single shot on goal, and finished a 13 to 4 advantage in shots.
“Our offense has really stepped up as our first line of defense this year,” sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Keenan said. “They have done a great job of putting pressure on the other team’s defense which forces them to make mistakes and allows for us to turn those mistakes into scoring opportunities.”
If the Polar Bears do thwart the Jumbos’ offense and break through the defense, Tufts can rest easy in the fact that Keenan has had a sensational rookie season, combining with junior Katie Stuntz to post six shutouts. Keenan’s .811 save percentage is third in the NESCAC and the sophomore has proved her fearlessness in coming off her line and out of the cage to shut down one−on−ones.
“Our defense does an excellent job of busting their butts and recovering back to break up the play of a girl on a breakaway,” Keenan said. “There have been very few times this year that I’ve had to leave the cage to stop one. I love to come out and take girls on one−on−one but it’s obviously something we try to avoid in game situations. I’ve always been a more aggressive goalkeeper, so coming out of the cage to stop the ball has always come naturally.”