Sports

Panther field hockey does it — wins sixth title!

THE MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE field hockey team won its sixth straight NCAA Division III championship on Sunday with a 2-0 victory over Johns Hopkins in the final. The Panthers did not allow a goal in the tournament. Photo courtesy of Middlebury College Sports Information

“It is a privilege and a joy to be bolstered by the talent, the intellect, the heart and the relationships these guys all have. I’m astounded by it every day.”
— Coach Katharine DeLorenzo

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Imagine this: A visitor to one of Coach Katharine DeLorenzo’s Middlebury College field hockey practices in 2017 tells the athletes they will win the next three NESCAC and NCAA Division III titles.

The visitor adds that a few of the younger players at the practice, after the pandemic cancelled the 2020 season, would later be teammates with athletes who would go on to win the next three consecutive NESCAC and NCAA titles after that. In other words, Panther field hockey would win post-season titles in all six of the years in which they were played.

Would the 2017 athletes laugh? Shake their heads in disbelief? Point out that no college field hockey team in any division had ever won six straight national titles?

Or would the Panthers just go back to work and create history?

The latter is the correct answer: Nothing appears to take Panther field hockey’s eyes off the prize, and more importantly what it takes on a daily basis to earn it.

In October they took care of the sixth league crown. On Sunday, they completed a four-game, unscored-upon run through the NCAA tournament with a 2-0 victory over Johns Hopkins for that sixth straight title, tying a bow on a 22-0 season in the process.

After the Panthers breezed through the NESCAC tournament, senior tri-captain Katie George said a daily focus on getting better and strong team chemistry were key elements of the program’s success over the years.

After Sunday’s victory over Johns Hopkins (22-2), her fellow senior tri-captain Audrey Lazar — who netted both goals in the final — echoed George.

“This team is really incredible, and they make it really easy to be great leaders, because you have 29 other people doing the right thing all the time,” Lazar said. “It’s a special group of people, and we’re so fortunate to have the outcomes we have each and every day.”

Junior midfielder Katherine Lantzy sounded the same theme when asked about the contributions of the team’s six seniors, five of whom start: forwards George and Lazar, center back and tri-captain Charlotte Marks, goalie KK Newton, and midfielder Sadie LeStage. The sixth senior, Meg Shelburne, also contributed this season.

“This team is full of women of great character, and strong women and seniors who are our strength and stability and heart,” Lantzy said.

DeLorenzo did add ability to the list when asked in Sunday’s postgame press conference about coaching the group.

“It is a privilege and a joy to be bolstered by the talent, the intellect, the heart and the relationships these guys all have,” DeLorenzo said. “I’m astounded by it every day.”

TITLE GAME

Those seniors also score and set up goals, and in Sunday’s final Lazar converted a George feed in the second minute of the game. The play started with defender Kelly Cooper lofting a ball out of the back from the left side.

George read a high bounce, and batted the ball out of the air past a lone defender and went in on Blue Jay goalie Alexis Loder, with Lazar to her right. George slipped the ball to Lazar, who flicked it back high into the left side of the net with 1:24 gone.

Both teams had chances on penalty corners mid-period, but Loder denied Panther junior midfielder Lilly Branka, and Blue Jay Liz Falterer missed wide. In the period’s final minute Hopkins earned four straight corners, but the Panthers defended them all.

The Panthers controlled the second period, holding Hopkins without a shot. George, Caroline Segal and Branka had chances, but Loder stopped the only shot on her cage.

Middlebury also ruled the third period, but only outshot the Blue Jays, 2-1. But one of those two shots found the mark with about six minutes left in the quarter.

Segal picked off a Hopkins clear on the left side, carried into the circle and fired on the cage. Loder came out and sprawled to deny the bid, but Lazar bolted in from the right and tipped the ball past Loder as she hurdled over the goalie.

In the second minute of the fourth quarter George stickhandled past a defender and around Loder, but her shot from a sharp angle rolled across the goal mouth and just wide of the left post.

Soon afterward the Blue Jays had two good chances. Newton kicked aside Megan Chang’s reverse-sweep bid from near the top of the circle, and Emily Amsden was there to one-time the rebound on goal, but Marks blocked the attempt.

Newton, who finished with five saves, also stopped Courtney Piper on one Blue Jay corner.

The Panther back line of Marks, Cooper and Ellie Hughes, with help from the Panthers’ team-wide dedication to defense, locked down the Blue Jays the rest of the way, while Loder, who made six saves, had to blocker away Lazar’s late bid for a hat trick.

Middlebury’s commitment to full-field defense made an impact.

“Our stability, throughout our first and second lines from back to front, was amazing right behind all this pressure that our forwards and our center mid put on their three backs,” DeLorenzo said. “We were on them before they were able to get their heads up so many times and really dictate even when Hopkins had the ball. Not all the time, but enough of the time to really make a difference.”

Lazar was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring five goals in four games. George (three goals, one assist), Lantzy and Marks were also named to the all-tournament team. George finished with 156 career points, fifth on the all-time list.

Middlebury’s 107 goals and 22 wins this season tied records set in 2022. The Panthers set a program mark for most shutouts in a season with 14, breaking the record of 13 set a year ago.

“I couldn’t be happier for this group of workers and committed players and athletes,” summed up DeLorenzo.

SEMIFINAL

On Friday the Panthers topped No. 2 Babson, 3-0. Middlebury also defeated the 22-2 Beavers in September, 3-2.

After an even first quarter, the Panthers seized control in the second quarter, outshooting the Beaver, 8-2, and getting the go-ahead goal from junior Amy Griffin.

In the first quarter Beaver Camille Marsh launched two shots from near the left post, but the Panther defense blocked the first bid, and Newton denied Marsh’s reverse-stick bid on the rebound.

Babson also threatened on an early penalty corner, but the Panther defense knocked way Brianne McGrath’s shot from just inside the arc.

Lantzy set the tone early in the second period by stickhandling past several defenders and firing on net, but Babson goalie Bayla Furmanek (five saves) kicked away the shot. George also just missed wide right on a corner when she batted a loose ball out of the air.

George soon forced another corner, and Griffin cashed in. Segal to the left inserted to LeStage, who slipped a pass to her right to Griffin. Griffin touched toward goal and fired inside the right post at 11:08.

The Beavers forced three corners in the next two minutes and created one good chance, but Newton kicked away a doorstep bid from Sinead Walsh for the most critical of her three saves.

That was arguably Babson’s last good chance. The Panthers dominated the rest of the way, not allowing another shot on goal. In the second period they earned three corners, and on one Branka forced Furmanek to make a diving save at the left post.

Segal made it 2-0 seven minutes into the third period on a corner. Segal, again on the left, inserted to George, who passed right to Griffin, who fired from near the penalty dot. Furmanek kicked the ball to her right with her left foot, and it went to Segal at the left post for the tap-in at 8:12.

Midway through fourth quarter, Segal found space on a feed from LeStage, but Furnamek stoned her with her right pad. But with 1:21 left Branka, off the left post, found the cage through traffic on a feed from Segal.

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