Field Hockey Wins NESCACs in Shootout

Alyssa+Dimaio+%2715+stickhandles+around+an+Amherst+defender+in+the+NESCAC+semifinal.+Dimaio+was+a+force+all+weekend+for+the+Panthers%2C+recording+a+goal+against+Bowdoin+and+an+assist+versus+Amherst.+%28Campus%2FJessica+Munyon%29
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Field Hockey Wins NESCACs in Shootout

Alyssa Dimaio '15 stickhandles around an Amherst defender in the NESCAC semifinal. Dimaio was a force all weekend for the Panthers, recording a goal against Bowdoin and an assist versus Amherst. (Campus/Jessica Munyon)

Alyssa Dimaio '15 stickhandles around an Amherst defender in the NESCAC semifinal. Dimaio was a force all weekend for the Panthers, recording a goal against Bowdoin and an assist versus Amherst. (Campus/Jessica Munyon)

Alyssa Dimaio '15 stickhandles around an Amherst defender in the NESCAC semifinal. Dimaio was a force all weekend for the Panthers, recording a goal against Bowdoin and an assist versus Amherst. (Campus/Jessica Munyon)

Alyssa Dimaio '15 stickhandles around an Amherst defender in the NESCAC semifinal. Dimaio was a force all weekend for the Panthers, recording a goal against Bowdoin and an assist versus Amherst. (Campus/Jessica Munyon)

By Fritz Parker

It took 100 minutes of play and five penalty shots, but the first-ranked Middlebury field hockey team defeated Bowdoin in the NESCAC championship game on Sunday, Nov. 4, to remain undefeated and claim the Panthers’ first conference championship since 2003. Cat Fowler ’15 came up with the game-winner for Middlebury after the team forced overtime with a late goal against the third-seeded Polar Bears.

Middlebury defeated Amherst in a semifinal game the day before on an overtime tally from Lauren Greer ’13 to reach its sixth conference title game.

In action against Amherst in the semifinal on Saturday, Nov. 3, the Panthers jumped out to a 1-0 halftime lead on a score from Greer. The Lord Jeffs were able to equalize in the opening minutes of the second period before an unassisted goal from Katherine Theiss ’14 put Middlebury back out in front. The lead lasted into the final three minutes of regulation, when a successful Amherst penalty stroke sent the game into extra time. It took less than three minutes of overtime for Greer to find the net on a penalty corner and send the Panthers to the final.

Back on Kohn Field on a frigid afternoon for Sunday’s championship game against Bowdoin, Middlebury quickly fell behind, as the Polar Bears converted a penalty stroke just two minutes in. Substitute goalkeeper Emily Knapp ’15 nearly missed getting her stick on a hard strike from Bowdoin senior Kassey Matoin as the Polar Bears took a 1-0 lead. The Panthers came right back, when Anna Kenyon ’16 fed Alyssa Dimaio ’15 in transition to knot the score at one just over three minutes in.

“Charlotte [Gardiner ’13] was taking the free hit and she sent it into the circle,” said Dimao. “Greer tipped it to Kenyon, she passed it to me and I swept it in.”

Middlebury played the majority of the half from their own defensive end as they struggled to get the ball clear of the zone, providing Bowdoin with multiple scoring opportunities. Panther senior defender Margaret Souther ’13 — who suffered a gruesome hand injury against Amherst the day before — did not dress for the title game. On their third penalty corner with three minutes remaining in the half, the Polar Bears finally put a shot past Madeline Brooks ’13 to take the lead.

“Margaret’s injury was an emotional and tactical setback for everyone,” said Dimaio. “We really had to adjust as a team overnight to fill the void. She is a key player in so many different aspects of the game, but it was also really exciting to see so many people rise to the occasion.”

In the half’s final minute, Middlebury was able to get the ball down to the Bowdoin end, earning a penalty corner with 24 second remaining. After a sharp insert from Dimaio, Greer and Cat Fowler ’15 each put strong shots on goal, but Bowdoin goalkeeper Kayla Lessard blocked both as time expired.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game stepping onto the field,” said Greer. “Bowdoin is a very skilled team and our rivalry with them is ongoing. It charges the game.”

Coming out of the break, the teams traded offensive possessions before a penalty corner insert from Dimaio was deflected in the air into the Bowdoin net for an apparent Panther tying score with 21 minutes to play. After an extended conference with both captains at midfield, the referees waved off the goal, ruling an illegal high shot.

Coming back down to the Middlebury end on the reset, Brooks made an acrobatic save to stop a shot from Polar Bear forward Rachel Kennedy. Minutes later, Gardiner laid out on the turf to block another potential Bowdoin goal, as the Panthers again struggled to get the ball out of the defensive zone. Kenyon made multiple deflections on Bowdoin penalty corner shots in the half to keep the deficit to one. Midfielder Elinore O’Brien ’14 was finally able to clear the ball for Middlebury, earning a penalty corner on the Bowdoin end with seven minutes left to play. After the insert from Dimaio, Greer deflected a hard shot from Theiss into the top of the Bowdoin cage to tie the score at 2-2, where it would remain for the rest of regulation.

In the first 15-minute, seven-versus-seven overtime period, the Panthers found themselves on the defensive, allowing the Polar Bears several quality scoring opportunities. Players from both teams were at this point visibly exhausted, and the pace of play slowed significantly. A shot from Bowdoin senior Kassey Matoin four minutes in sailed just high of the net – drawing a gasp from the swelling crowd of Panther faithfuls – but that was as close as either team would come to scoring in the period, and the game continued into double overtime.

“Even though our style of play isn’t defensive, we remained composed in our defensive end which I think was the key to our success,” said Greer. “Poise under pressure; we didn’t panic.”

Back on their own end in the second extra period, the Panthers again faced a barrage of Bowdoin penalty corners. Just as she did in regulation, Kenyon gave the Polar Bear attackers fits on the penalty corner, breaking up a key play to give the Panthers the ball in transition. A subsequent shot from Fowler was covered up by the Bowdoin goalkeeper and Middlebury was awarded a penalty stroke. Taking the shot, Greer elevated the ball but wasn’t able to beat the goalkeeper’s left blocker, sending the standing crowd back into their seats. Bowdoin had another penalty corner as time expired but they could not convert, and the game went to penalty shots.

In best-of-five penalty shots, the Panthers fell behind 2-1 before both teams missed their third shots, including an acrobatic save from Brooks. Shooting fourth for Middlebury, Gardiner beat the diving Bowdoin keeper to tie the period at 2-2 with one shooter remaining. On Bowdoin’s final attempt, Polar Bear forward Adrienne O’Donnell cut right before sending a low shot just wide of the goal. Shooting for the win, Fowler backed down the goalkeeper, spinning to her left as she slid a shot into the back of the cage, sending the crowd spilling out onto the field in celebration.

The NESCAC championship is the first for Middlebury since 2003 and earns the team an automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Panthers avenge a 2-1 loss to Bowdoin in last year’s conference title game, sending the Polar Bears home with just their second loss in NESCAC tournament play since 2005.

The Panthers open NCAA play at home on Saturday, Nov. 10 as they take on the winner of a game between UMass-Dartmouth and Skidmore. With a record of 17-0, Middlebury currently sits atop the national poll as they look to improve upon last season’s NCAA runner-up finish.

“The team is incredibly excited looking onward to NCAAs,” said Greer. “That has been a goal this entire season, and now that it’s here we have the experience and the momentum to propel us forward.”

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