Panther field hockey wins NCAA title

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The second-ranked Middlebury College field hockey team rolled to a 4-0 victory over No. 1 Messiah in Sunday’s NCAA Division III final to claim the program’s second national title in three years and third overall.
The 20-2 Panthers scored three times in the first 18 minutes and used strong defense and goaltending and good ball movement to deal the defending champion Falcons (22-1) their first loss in 45 games. The margin of victory was the largest ever in a D-III final.
“In this game today, I really think we saw bits and pieces of every single training session we’ve had all year come to life,” said Coach Katharine DeLorenzo. “I thought it was a beautiful performance.”
The Panthers once again showed scoring balance. Four players found the back of the cage, sophomore middie Kelly Coyle, junior forward Grace Jennings, sophomore forward Julia Richards, and senior middie Audrey Quirk.
They also scored at least four goals for the 10th time in 11 outings, the only exception being Friday’s national semifinal, when they needed senior Annie Leonard’s overtime goal to defeat No. 10 Franklin & Marshall, 2-1. That game, unlike the final, was played on slower field turf, while the final was played on the University of Louisville’s main field, a surface more like the Panthers’ Kohn Field.
In the final the Panthers dodged an early bullet. In the sixth minute Messiah set up All-American Carissa Gehman, who has 100 career goals, on a penalty corner. Gehman’s blast from the top of the circle hit the inside of the left post and rolled across the goalmouth without crossing the line.
   PANTHER SENIOR LAUREN Schweppe was named the tournament’s most outstanding player during last weekend’s NCAA Division III national championships. Middlebury won its third national title with a 4-0 win over Messiah. Photo by John Sommers III
At 10:20 the Panthers converted a penalty corner. Crisp passing set up Leonard for a good look on Falcon goalie Shelby Landes, who stopped her shot. But the ball rolled toward the right post, where Coyle was waiting to tuck it home.
Jennings made it 2-0 3:45 later. Messiah tried a back pass to a defender just outside the circle, but Jennings poked the ball free from the Falcon, went in alone on Landes (four saves) and flicked the ball home low into the left side from 10 feet out with a reverse-stick move.
Panther goalie Abby Furdak (six saves) made a strong pad stop at the right post to preserve the two-goal lead. Then Jennings set up Richards in the 18th minute, beating two defenders down the left side and crossing to Richards on the right post for the conversion. That 3-0 score held up at the half.
Messiah bottled up the Panthers for the first 13 minutes of the second half and had a golden chance on a penalty corner 10 minutes in. Karalyn Schmidt’s tip of a shot from the top hit the left post and bounced dangerously loose before Furdak dove to clear it away.
But for the most part the Panther backs, senior Lauren Schweppe and Olivia Green, and midfielders prevented the Falcons from getting good looks on goal by reading passing lanes and breaking up plays outside the Panther circle, although Messiah did earn 10 penalty corners to the Panthers’ eight. Messiah was shut out for the first time in 58 games.
Quirk capped Middlebury’s scoring at 49:09 on a penalty corner. Landes stopped Emma Johns’ initial shot, but Johns collected the rebound to the right of goal and found Quirk on the far side. Quirk tucked the ball inside the left post.
In Friday’s semifinal Leonard scored 35 seconds into overtime as the Panthers defeated Franklin & Marshall, 2-1. F&M finished 17-4 after the loss at Bellarmine University.
The Panthers outshot the Diplomats in the first half, 3-0, and scored at 24:42, when Jennings redirected a Richards shot. 
The Diplomats equalized 21 seconds into the second half, when Annie Horsley converted a penalty stroke. F&M outshot the Panthers in the second half, 4-1, and had chances.
In overtime Quirk worked the ball down the left side and found freshman middie Erin Nicholas on the right side of the circle. Nicholas’ shot bounced off charging F&M goalie Ilianna Santangelo, and Leonard swatted the rebound out of the air into the upper left corner of the goal. Furdak made two saves for the Panthers, while Santangelo had four stops.
Lauren Schweppe was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, and Leonard, Jennings and Furdak earned spots on the all-tournament team.
   MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE SENIOR Annie Leonard spins and celebrates her game-winning overtime goal in Friday’s NCAA Division III national semifinal game against Franklin and Marshall. Middlebury went on to win the national championship Sunday. Photo by John Sommers III
Schweppe credited DeLorenzo for creating a championship culture.
“It all comes from coach. We couldn’t do it without her. She’s the bread and butter of this team, she keeps us all together,” Schweppe said. “I’ve never been on a team where it’s just a really tangible sense of being on the team and feeling so connected to everyone. It’s just the culture that she’s built, the relationships she encourages between her players.”
Quirk, like several of the Panthers also a member of the 2015 title team, talked about being on both.
“I think what was different for the senior class is that we knew the feeling that we were going to feel if we were able to come out on top, and wanted our freshman and sophomores to feel that, too,” Quirk said. “It’s the most incredible feeling in the world to do it and do this with a family like this.”

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