The fourth-seeded Amherst field hockey team had their work cut out for them this past weekend as they faced first-ranked Middlebury College in the NESCAC Tournament semifinals. Middlebury entered the contest seeded first in the conference and also ranked number one in the country by the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association. The odds against the Lord Jeffs were too great, and they were shut out 3-0 by the Panthers. Amherst finished the year with a stellar record of 11-5 (6-3 NESCAC), but also with the disappointment of being knocked out of the NESCAC tournament in the semifinals.
During the regular season, Amherst lost a heartbreaker at home to Middlebury by a score of 3-2. This time, the Jeffs were out for revenge. Amherst came out strong against the Middlebury squad and looked ready to upset the favored Panthers.
“We were really intense and communicated well,” said forward Rachel Carr-Harris ’07.
Despite their emotional fury, the Jeffs began the game at a disadvantage. The Jeffs play on a grass field at Amherst and only played one regular season contest on the artificial surface, while the Panthers play on turf every day. Turf can be a difficult surface to deal with if a team is not used to it, and Middlebury’s strengths-speed, skillful stickwork and intelligent passing-are rewarded on a turf field where the ball moves very quickly. In order to prepare for the match, Amherst journeyed over to UMass to log some hours on a turf field, but it was not enough to make up for Middlebury’s edge.
Although Amherst came out with a bang, the Jeffs were unable to convert their energy into a goal. Over the course of the game, Amherst had seven shots and seven corners, but the ball simply never made it past Panther net minder Meg McGillen, who collected four saves.
Despite opportunities and a number of shots, the Jeffs couldn’t manage to knock a rebound into the net.
The Panthers picked up their game as the first half progressed, moving the ball well and stringing together passes to create opportunities in front of junior goalie K.C. Cosentino’s net. Middlebury racked up a total of 15 shots and 13 penalty corners. In a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful effort, Cosentino managed 12 saves.
Middlebury netted two goals in the first half. Char Glessner, who had scored the game-winner for the Panthers in the Jeffs’ regular season loss, found the back of the net off of an assist from Ashley Lyddane with 12:08 remaining. Glessner, much to the annoyance of the Amherst defense, netted another score with just 3:22 left in the first half.
The first goal was a disappointment for the Jeffs, but the second goal really took the wind out of Amherst’s sails. With a one-goal deficit, the game was still up in the air, but a two-goal deficit against the best team in the country was not going to be easily erased. The two goals left the Jeffs mentally exhausted going into halftime.
Amherst played valiantly in the second half, but it slowly became clear that it would be a losing effort. The Jeffs certainly played to the Panthers’ level, but the third goal of the game sealed the Amherst loss. Abigail Lamb added the third and final goal of the game off a pass from Emily Enos at 21:31 of the second half.
The Jeffs kept up their intensity and made offensive drives late in the game that nearly resulted in goals, displaying their characteristic teamwork. “We had such a chemistry about our team, we were always connected and playing together,” said co-captain Molly Jacobs ’04.
However, in this case, chemistry was not enough. The 3-0 deficit was simply too great to make up. Cosentino managed to keep the Panthers in check for the remaining 20 minutes, making a save on a hard Lamb shot with 18:05 remaining in the match.
The Panthers went on to defeat third-seeded Williams College in the NESCAC finals by a score of 1-0. Williams had defeated second-seeded Bowdoin College in a 5-4 nail-biter in the game before the Amherst-Middlebury matchup.
Amherst, ranked 17th in the nation before the loss, had narrow hopes of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Division Three Tournament before finding out that they had not been included in the bracket when the tournament field was released on Sunday night. Williams, however, did receive an at-large bid.
Despite the semifinal loss, Jacobs is truly proud of the Jeffs’ season. “I think we all agree that Carol [Knerr] did an amazing job as a head coach and Julie [Zoolkoski] as an assistant,” she said. “I can honestly say that it was the best season of my life, with the greatest team I’ve ever played on and I’m so proud of all we accomplished and how close we came.”