MIDDLEBURY — One of the best seasons in Middlebury College field hockey history came to a stunning end on Sunday, when despite the Panthers’ statistical dominance of the NCAA Division III regional final they hosted, DePauw prevailed in overtime, 2-1.
The 18-1 Panthers outshot the 21-1 Tigers by a 22-3 margin in regulation, 13-0 in a one-sided first half that saw Middlebury take a 1-0 lead.
But DePauw surged in the seven-on-seven overtime, earning three penalty corners and launching three unanswered shots. The third came from Paige Henry, who stole the ball along the left sideline, carried just inside the circle and ripped the winning shot home with 5:40 gone.
The Panthers entered the game with the No. 1 ranking in NCAA D-III and with the 2012 NESCAC regular season and playoff trophies already earned.
But they entered the game without all-NESCAC left back Margaret Souther, one of the team’s four seniors, who was injured in the NESCAC playoffs. The other seniors are NESCAC player of the year and D-III leading scorer Lauren Greer, all-NESCAC midfielder Charlotte Gardiner and goalie Madeline Brooks.
Coach Katharine DeLorenzo said the leadership, work ethic, and play of that group has helped “redefine” the Panther field hockey program in the past several seasons.
“I can’t say enough about any of them in terms of what they bring to the table. They’ve blown away the records we had in terms of goal scoring and prevention of goals,” DeLorenzo said. “I couldn’t be prouder to have witnessed what they’ve done and to the end I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished and who they are while they’ve done it.”
But despite all the team has done and all the pressure it applied on Sunday, the Panthers could not score in their typical manner: This was the first time they have tallied fewer than two goals this season, and only the third time they have scored fewer than three against a schedule filled with opponents as tough or tougher than DePauw.
In the first half, the work of midfielders Catherine Fowler, Alyssa DiMaio, Elinore O’Brien and Gardiner keyed the Panthers, as they bottled up the Tigers in their own end and repeatedly sent Greer and forwards Katharine Theiss and Anna Kenyon into the attack.
That pressure created 11 penalty corners, and Middlebury scored on the fifth — but not before DePauw goalie Maggie Steele made saves on Fowler, DiMaio (twice) Greer (twice), and got help from the left post, which a Greer drive drilled on one corner.
Finally, at 10:35, DiMaio injected on a corner, and O’Brien teed it up for Greer, who ripped it home for her 38th goal of the fall.
But that was it: Steele racked up another save on a Greer penalty corner drive, and in the final minute on the half’s 11th corner also stopped Fowler. DePauw sweeper Chelsea Cutler also broke up a couple earlier corners, and it was just 1-0 at the half.
“We had plenty of chances … I thought we used a lot of the openings,” DeLorenzo said. “The goalie made lots of good saves.”
DePauw contested midfield a little better in the second half, and were only outshot 9-3. And one shot went in: Brigitte Shamleffer broke up a clear and sent in ball from the right side toward a Panther defender and Maggie Campbell. The ball deflected off the Panther stick to Campbell, whose drive from near the penalty stripe went in past Brooks (two saves) at 57:24.
The Panthers regained full control down the stretch and earned three more corners. Steele stopped Fowler on the first, the defense broke up Greer on the second, and Greer’s blast was deflected just wide on the third; it was so close it looked like the official started to signal a goal. Steele also stopped Greer on a nice feed from Kenyon with about 8:00 to go.
Then DePauw surprisingly took charge in the overtime, and the Middlebury season ended.
Middlebury had advanced to Sunday’s regional final behind a combined five goals and three assists from Greer and Fowler in a 6-2 Saturday win over Skidmore (14-6). Kenyon also scored, Brooks stopped three shots, and Meredith Rowe and Cassie Coash recorded defensive saves. During the game Greer broke her own Middlebury single-season records for goals (37) and points (88) in a season.The Panthers outshot Skidmore, 20-13.
Despite Sunday’s loss, DeLorenzo said this year’s team was probably better than the four squads she has led to the NCAA final.
“It’s the best Middlebury team we’ve put on the field in a decade, if not ever,” DeLorenzo said. “It’s just a heartache to see the seniors go out like this.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.