While the ultimate result was heartbreaking, players took solace in the team’s perseverance in the face of adversity. “The theme of our season was being relentless.,” Rachel Egan ’11 said. “Against Bowdoin we were more relentless than ever. We are a team that never gives up and we always give it our all.”
The Jeffs (12-4, 6-3 NESCAC) were also surprisingly denied an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, bringing their season to a close.
Bowdoin, seeded second in the NESCAC, dominated the first 50 minutes of the semifinal clash, as Amherst, the fourth seed, struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the early going. Despite being outshot 13-0 in the first half, the Jeffs nearly entered the break unscathed. The Polar Bears, however, finally capitalized on a scoring opportunity as time expired in the first frame, inflicting a massive psychological blow to the Jeffs at the half.
The Polar Bears then extended their lead to 2-0 just three minutes after the break, when Bowdoin’s Cathleen Smith scored on a crossing pass. The Polar Bears seemed to be cruising to victory, while the Jeffs appeared to be stumbling toward a dispiriting, lackluster defeat. After all, Amherst had still not recorded a single shot on net.
A resilient Amherst team, however, stunned Bowdoin late in the second half. Head coach Carol Knerr called a time-out with 20 minutes left in the second half, allowing the embattled Jeffs to regroup.
Knerr also made a crucial strategic move, replacing a defender with an extra attacker to jumpstart the team’s moribund offense. The timeout was “the real turning point in the game” as Knerr’s aggressive tactics immediately paid dividends, Egan said. “We were still down 2-0 and knew we had to do something if we wanted to come back.”
Minutes after the time-out, Rachel Lupien ’12 scored a rebound goal with 17:58 remaining; the initial attempt from Carly Leahy ’11 marked the Jeffs’ first shot on goal. And just like that, the Jeffs had turned the lopsided affair around.
Spurred by the sudden change in momentum, the Jeffs continued their offensive resurgence, and the scoring opportunities started to come in bunches. With less than six minutes remaining, Lupien scored her second goal of the game.
After a penalty corner, Lupien redirected junior Sarah McCarrick’s pass from close range to knot the game at 2-2. Before this weekend, Lupien only had three goals, but emerged as an unlikely hero in crucial moments against Bowdoin.
Despite staging a valiant comeback, however, the Jeffs could not enjoy a storybook ending. They continued to exert pressure during the first few minutes of overtime, as Carly Dudzik ’12 had a good scoring chance denied by Neilson. Dudzik was also named to the all-NESCAC first team, and Katie McMahon ’13 joined her on the all-conference second team.
The Polar Bears, however, would shatter the Jeffs’ title aspirations 5:33 into the overtime period. A Polar Bear penalty corner caused a scrum in front of the Amherst net, allowing Bowdoin’s Katie Herter to poke the loose ball into the cage for the game-winning goal.
The Polar Bears finished with a 27-9 edge in shots, and held a 12-6 advantage in penalty corners. Amherst goalkeeper Liz Schink ’11 was sharp in net, recording 10 saves against a swarming, relentless Bowdoin attack. The Polar Bears went on to defeat Tufts 3-0 in the championship game.
The semifinal playoff contest was a rematch of the season opener for these two teams, which the Jeffs lost 4-3 at Bowdoin. The scoring pattern from that September game was somewhat similar: the Polar Bears jumped out to a 3-1 lead, Amherst rallied to tie the game at 3-3, but Bowdoin scored a late goal to earn the victory.
Despite their No. 14 national ranking, the Jeffs were unable to secure a berth in the 24-team NCAA tournament. The national tournament reserves 16 spots for conference winners: a selection process that limits the number of at-large entries and rewards weaker league champions. The top three regular-season NESCAC teams — Bowdoin, Tufts and Middlebury — made the tournament, but Amherst fell just short of the cut.
In addition to the heartbreaking Bowdoin loss, the exclusion from the NCAA tournament was a bitter pill for the Jeffs to swallow, particularly for senior captains Carly Leahy, Schink and Egan. “As seniors, it’s very upsetting that we played our last game without knowing it; we thought we would have more games [after Bowdoin],” Egan said. “It’s a tough way to end our careers.”