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Middlebury field hockey seeks league, NCAA crowns

MIDDLEBURY — After Saturday’s 4-1 home victory over Colby in a NESCAC quarterfinal, the Middlebury College field hockey team will enter this weekend’s league final four at Bowdoin with an 11-game winning streak, a 15-1 record, and the No. 3 ranking in NCAA Division III — behind only No. 1 Salisbury and No. 2 Bowdoin.
Coach Katharine DeLorenzo, who earned her 200th coaching win at Middlebury and 300th college victory overall this fall, believes the Panthers’ depth and balanced scoring give this year’s team an excellent shot at another NESCAC title and possibly the program’s second NCAA crown.
“I’m as confident as I’ve ever been, and this is a different kind of team,” she said. “I think they see themselves as balanced. They have proven themselves statistically as balanced.”
The Panthers’ scoring table backs her contention: Ten players have recorded at least four goals and 12 points, led by senior midfielder Catherine Fowler (16 goals, 6 assists in 14 games), junior forward Bridget Instrum (8 goals, 8 assists in just 8 games), freshman middie Annie Leonard (9 goals, 4 assists despite nagging injuries), and sophomore forward Pam Schulman (8 goals, 6 assists).
Middies Anna Kenyon (4 goals, 10 assists), a junior, and Alyssa DiMaio (2 goals, 9 assists), a senior, help trigger the offense and lead the team in assists.
The Panthers showed that offensive balance on Saturday vs. Colby, with three scorers in the 4-1 win.
The Panthers got on the board in the third minute. Instrum picked up a loose ball in the defensive end, carried down the right side, and set up a Leonard for a two-yard tap-in.
In the 26th minute, Middlebury drew a penalty corner. DiMaio inserted to Kenyon, who set up junior defender Shannon Hutteman to convert from 15 yards out.
DeLorenzo said penalty corners have been a weapon for the Panthers this fall, with a roughly 25 percent conversion rate. Hutteman (5 goals) and fellow junior defender Jillian Green (5 goals) and sophomore defender Lauren Berestecky as well as the forwards have been effective on offensive corners, DeLorenzo said.
The Panthers added to their lead on Saturday about nine minutes into the second half, when Fowler cashed in a rebound of one of her own shots with a reverse sweep. Fowler found the back of the cage again at 54:11 during a goalmouth scramble. Colby’s Erin Maguire broke up Panther goalie Emily Knapp’s shutout bid by finding the left corner from the top of the circle on a penalty corner.
Middlebury held advantages of  22-5 in shots and 9-4 in penalty corners. Knapp made two saves, while Sarah  Evans stopped 11 shots for 9-7 Colby.
At top-seeded Bowdoin on Saturday, the second-seeded Panthers will meet third-seeded Trinity at 1:30 p.m., after the hosts take on fifth-seeded Tufts at 11 a.m. The championship game will be played on Sunday at noon.
This fall, Middlebury defeated Trinity, ranked No. 11, 1-0, on the road; lost to No. 2 Bowdoin, the defending NCAA champion, at home, 2-1; and thumped No. 9 Tufts at home, 6-1.
One advantage DeLorenzo said the Panthers will carry into this weekend’s games and, with any luck, into the NCAA tournament that is sure to follow, is that finally they are almost entirely injury-free.
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been this year,” she said.
Also, DeLorenzo said, the team’s athletic young defense, which includes Mount Anthony Union High School product Lily Taub, a sophomore, as well as Green, Hutteman and Berestecky, has steadily improved, with Knapp, a senior, providing a steadying influence.
 “She’s playing the best hockey she’s played since she’s played at Middlebury, and we have the quickest defense that we’ve had,” DeLorenzo said.
She also cites as strengths the team’s ballhandling and passing skills, and, of course, balance.
“Our scoring continues to come from many different angles, many different players, many different plays,” DeLorenzo said. “We’ll be able to create scoring chances against all teams in all those ways, and the real key will be getting those scoring chances to convert into goals.”
In all, she likes the Panthers’ chances moving forward.
“There some very good teams out there that will be very difficult to beat,” she said. “But I think we are definitely a team that is going to be challenging to hold down.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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