Middlebury Athletic Communications
The second-ranked women’s field hockey prepared to rush the field as the final seconds of the second half counted down, giving them their third national championship in program history. The Panthers cruised past No. 1 and previously undefeated Messiah College of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, 4–0 on Sunday, Nov. 19 in Louisville, Kentucky, snapping Messiah’s 44-game win streak. Middlebury earned its spot in the Finals after their Final Four triumph over 10th-ranked Franklin & Marshall 2–1 on Friday, Nov. 17, with Annie Leonard ’18’s game-winning goal in overtime.
The semifinal game was scoreless on the field of Bellarmine University until late in the first period. The Panthers finally broke through in the 24th minute when Grace Jennings ’19 made her presence known. Off of an Erin Nicholas ’21 pass, Julia Richards ’20 crossed the ball into the goal area that Jennings deflected to the back of the net. [Coincidentally, in the DIII field hockey version of the Har-Bowl, Nicholas’ sister Michaela was across the field opposing her on the Diplomats, making it a special day for the Nicholas family.]
The 1–0 lead the Jennings goal gave the Panthers would hold going into the half.
The Diplomats started off the second 35 minutes on the attack, penetrating the Panthers’ half from the first whistle.
25 seconds in, Franklin & Marshall’s Annie Horsley was awarded a penalty shot which she converted to even the score at 1. The Diplomats were unable to keep up the pressure though, and the Panthers managed to survive the subsequent 34 minutes that were relatively even. The score remained knotted at 1 as the time expired in regulation.
Middlebury wasted no time in determining which team was headed to the finals. With just over half a minute played in the sudden-death overtime period, Leonard slapped in the golden goal to earn the Panthers a spot in the championship.
Leonard’s goal was impressive. She grabbed the ball in mid-air off of a deflection from a Diplomat defender and found an opening in the upper right side of the goal, giving the Panthers a chance to win their second national title in three years.
On Sunday, the Panthers faced a daunting task in the previously undefeated defending national champions in Messiah. Not only did the Falcons have a 44-game win streak dating back to last season, that streak included a win in the 2016 Regional Final over Middlebury.
The final was played at the University of Louisville on a crisp early evening in Trager Stadium. But, the Panthers were confident, having won their last 15 games. And, they had been here before, besting Bowdoin for the title in 2015.
Jennings commented on the team’s previous matchup with Messiah the year before.
“We knew this year was totally different: they were a different team and so were we but we naturally carried a chip on our shoulder for our seniors last year,” said Jennings. “Obviously winning a national championship is great but beating a team that you only get to play in the playoffs and avenging the last game does make the win that much better.”
Messiah almost had the Panthers in a hole early on, forcing Middlebury to shut down a penalty corner opportunity with just under six minutes gone in the battle. Less than five minutes later, Middlebury struck first. Kelly Coyle ’20 skillfully grabbed the rebound off of a shot from Friday’s hero, Leonard, and hammered it past the Falcon goalie to give the Panthers the lead.
To the surprise of the confident Messiah contingent that the Falcon’s section of the stands, Jennings increased the Panthers total to two less than four minutes later after she intercepted an errant Messiah pass. Middlebury the rattled the Falcons even further, with yet another point less than five minutes later when Richards artfully slipped a ball past the Messiah goalie to award Middlebury with a three goal lead heading into intermission.
Richards reflected on her momentum-shifting goal in a big-time moment.
“Scoring a goal in this game was an indescribable experience,” said Richards. “Our objective going into the game was to capitalize on any and all opportunities, and I’m so happy that I was able to contribute.”
A little more than ten minutes into the second stanza, Messiah almost broke the shutout, but their shot was denied.
Middlebury registered its fourth and final goal with under 21 minutes remaining in the match, when Audrey Quirk ’18 shot the ball to the left side of the goalie.
The 4–0 shut-out held as time ran out, marking the first time that Messiah had been shutout since 2015 (58 games).
Abby Furdak ’21 stopped six shots on goal, en route to her seventh shutout of the season.
“Coach DeLorenzo is an absolute magician when it comes to field hockey, and she created layers with our line up to play to everyone’s strengths,” said Jennings. “What makes teams great is when everyone has a different role due to their strengths, and when they are playing to their strengths they are complementing those of another teammate. Coach DeLorenzo understood this better than anyone and cooked up a national championship team out of the ingredients she had.”
Lauren Schweppe ’18 was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, while Jennings, Furdak, and Leonard claimed all-tournament team recognition.
Not only were Middlebury’s four goals the most ever for the Panthers in the championship game, but the margin of victory was also the greatest ever in an NCAA DIII Final.