MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College field hockey program will begin its quest for its first NCAA Division III title since 1998 by hosting a four-team regional tournament on Saturday and Sunday.
The 17-0 Panthers, ranked No. 1 in the final regular season poll, earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the NESCAC tourney on their home turf this past weekend. They claimed a 3-2 shootout victory over second-seeded Bowdoin in Sunday’s final after edging fifth seed Amherst in overtime on Saturday, also by 3-2.
The Panthers prevailed this past weekend despite losing senior standout defender Margaret Souther to a hand injury early in Saturday’s semifinal. Coach Katharine DeLorenzo said on Monday that Souther, a four-year starter, is not expected back for the NCAA tournament.
This coming Saturday the Panthers will open the NCAA regional at 11 a.m. against the winner of a Wednesday game between Skidmore (13-5) and UMass-Dartmouth (17-5). That game was played at Skidmore after the deadline for this edition of the Independent.
Saturday’s 2 p.m. game will pit DePauw (19-1) vs. the winner of a Wednesday game between host Utica (14-5) and Endicott (15-4). The winners will meet in Sunday’s regional final on Kohn Field at 1 p.m.
The Panthers will be seeking their second straight appearance in the NCAA D-III final four; they lost to The College of New Jersey in the 2011 final. This year, William Smith (16-3) will host the final four in Geneva, N.Y., on Nov. 17 and 18.
William Smith or Bowdoin (14-3, and the team that the Panthers defeated in the NCAA semifinal round a year ago) will be favored to emerge from a regional also hosted by William Smith and meet the winner of the Middlebury regional.
Top contenders in the other half of the bracket include Salisbury (15-2), Mary Washington (18-1), Messiah (17-3) and Montclair State (19-1).
This past Sunday, the Panthers had to get past Bowdoin to win the NESCAC title: The Polar Bears had won each of the last six NESCAC title games in which they competed and have won seven league titles. Middlebury was making its sixth appearance in the title game and had earned its previous crown in 2003. Bowdoin suffered only its second loss in NESCAC tournament play since 2005, and Middlebury avenged a 2-1 loss in the 2011 title game.
Bowdoin took a 1-0 lead 2:01 into the game when Kassey Matoin converted a penalty stroke. Middlebury answered 1:23 later when Anna Kenyon sent a centering pass from the right side and Alyssa DiMaio knocked it in for her seventh of the year.
The Polar Bears took a 2-1 lead late in the first half, when Rachel Kennedy scored her team-leading 14th goal. Molly Paduda sent a pass towards the middle, and Kennedy swept it in.
Kennedy almost made it 3-1 in 50th minute, but Middlebury keeper Madeline Brooks came out to challenge her and made the save. Brooks (nine saves) again denied Kennedy in the 57th minute.
Middlebury tied the game with 6:30 remaining, when Lauren Greer netted her NESCAC-best 34th of the year. Katherine Theiss sent a pass to Greer, whose hard shot deflected off a defender and into the goal.
The first overtime saw no great scoring chances. The Polar Bears had a good look 2:30 into the second overtime, but Brooks denied a high shot by Cathleen Smith on a penalty corner.
Middlebury had its best chance to take home the title with 3:20 left, but Bowdoin goalie Kayla Lessard (nine saves) denied Greer’s penalty stroke high to the right. The Panthers then survived two Bowdoin penalty corners as time expired.
After 100 minutes of play, the game entered a five-round shootout. Cathleen Smith and Kennedy scored early for Bowdoin, and Greer converted for the Panthers. Lessard stopped Middlebury’s Elinore O’Brien to give the Polar Bears a 2-1 lead after two rounds.
Brooks made a nice poke save to deny Katie Riley before Lessard stopped two shots from Middlebury’s Anna Kenyon to keep it 2-1. Matoin missed wide left, and Panther Charlotte Gardiner tied the shootout at 2-2 with a clutch shot to the right side.
Bowdoin looked to take the lead in the final round, but Adrienne O’Donnell missed wide. After faking a shot and a nice spin move, Middlebury’s Catherine Fowler found the right side of the net to give the Panthers the title.
For her performance in the final four, especially in the shootout, Brooks was named the NESCAC Player of the Week.
On Saturday vs. 11-5 Amherst, Greer scored 2:34 into overtime to lift the Panthers into the final.
Earlier, Middlebury broke through at 18:01 of the first half with a goal on a penalty corner, with DiMaio assisting Greer.
Amherst tied the game at the 39:15 mark of the second half on a penalty corner — Madeline Tank scored during a scramble. The goal was the first allowed by Middlebury in a span of 614:32, dating back to a September 29 game at Wesleyan.
Middlebury regained the lead at 55:13, when Theiss scored her 17th, knocking home a Greer rebound on a penalty corner with a reverse stick. The Jeffs tied the game with 2:37 remaining to go on a penalty stroke.
In overtime, Middlebury was awarded a penalty corner early. Gardiner inserted to Greer on the left side, and Greer carried the ball to the goal before finding the far corner.
The contest ended with Amherst holding a 12-11 shots advantage, with 10 corners for each squad. Brooks made five saves, while Rachel Tannenbaum also made five stops for the Jeffs.