Hannah Park, A16, scored twice as the Tufts field hockey team beat Montclair State University 2–1 to capture the 2012 NCAA Division III Championship at William Smith College in Geneva, N.Y., on Nov. 18. It is the first NCAA women’s team title in Tufts history.
Park’s pair of first-half goals helped Tufts overcome a 1–0 deficit. She also had an assist in the team’s 2–0 semifinal win against DePauw on Nov. 17, and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. First-year players scored all four Jumbo goals and had two of the team’s three assists during the weekend of championship play.
“This is definitely a dream come true,” says Park. “I remember this summer thinking how awesome it would be just to make it to the national championship. It’s been awesome.”
The Montclair Red Hawks (22–2) opened the scoring, earning a penalty corner in the 11th minute. Junior Sierra Rauchbach sent a cross from the left side of the cage to senior Frances Schaefer on the right side. Her first offering was turned back by Tufts goalie Brianna Keenan, E15, but Schaefer collected her own rebound and sticked home her 18th goal of the year.
Down by a goal wasn’t unfamiliar territory for the Jumbos, and head coach Tina McDavitt was confident her team wouldn’t panic.
“This season we had a lot of challenging games playing in the New England Small College Athletic Conference [NESCAC],” she says. “We’d been tied 0–0 or down by a goal. This team has had to work through that and has been able to get goals later in the game or come back from a deficit. I had confidence that they would do that. We talked about playing our game plan, working the ball to the outside and shutting down their key players.”
In the 16th minute, the Jumbos (19–2) pulled even on a penalty corner of their own. The insertion went to the top of the circle, where Dakota Sikes-Keilp, A16, unleashed a blast that Red Hawk senior Megan Bosland kicked to her right. The ricochet landed on Park’s stick, and she fired it home for her fourth goal of the season.
Tufts took the lead with 6:34 left in the opening half. Alexandra Jamison, A16, rifled a pass from outside the circle into the middle, where Park redirected it for her second goal of the afternoon.
The Red Hawks had a chance to pull even just before halftime. On a scramble in front of the Jumbo goal, Keenan saved a screaming shot from her left. The rebound was stopped by senior co-captain Rachel Gerhardt’s defensive save, but Montclair State’s third attempt was kept out of the goal by a body ball, resulting in a penalty stroke. With 4:24 left in the half, Montclair’s Stephanie Lewis missed the shot wide left.
In the second half, Montclair State earned several quality scoring opportunities early: four corners in the first 11 minutes. The Red Hawks briefly celebrated what they thought was a game-tying goal off a corner, but one Red Hawk entered the circle too early, so the goal was waived off.
Over the final 24 minutes, the Jumbos played superb defense, limiting the Red Hawks to just a single shot. Keenan earned the win with five saves.
“It was just an attitude back there,” McDavitt says. “Liza Wetzel [A13], Rachel Gerhardt [A13] and Bri Keenan are so solid in the backfield. They were just determined to keep it out. Even when they had that stroke against us, we were doing everything we could to keep them off the board. It was just a total team effort.”
Like the final score, shots and penalty corners were nearly even. Montclair State had a 12–11 edge in shots, while Tufts enjoyed an 8–7 advantage in corners.
“To win a national championship has been a dream for all of us and is a testament to what a great team this is,” says co-captain Lia Sagerman, A13. “We had to earn every win this season, and to get to this final game and come away with the W was the perfect ending.”
“We couldn’t be more proud of this team and our coaching staff and appreciate all the love and support we’ve received this season from everyone at Tufts,” Gerhardt says. “We are so excited to bring this home for the Jumbos.”
Sagerman, Emily Cannon, A14, and Gerhardt joined Park on the All-Tournament Team.
The championship is the culmination of a season that started with uncertainty for Tufts. The Jumbos trailed at Middlebury College 5–0 in the season opener on Sept. 8 and eventually lost 5–2. One-goal wins over Babson, Wesleyan, UMass Dartmouth and Colby put Tufts on a winning streak, but the Jumbos didn’t seem to be the dominant team that they had been in recent years.
A turning point came at Trinity on Sept. 23, when Tufts defeated their rivals 2–1 in overtime on a goal by Cannon. One week later they won in overtime again, at home against Amherst, 4–3, with Sagerman scoring the game-winner. A third overtime victory came at Connecticut College on Oct. 6 as Kelsey Perkins, A13, scored to run the Jumbo winning streak to eight games.
Tufts finished its regular season with a 3–1 victory against Bowdoin to earn the number 2 seed in the conference. With a 2–0 victory over Wesleyan in the quarterfinal round of the conference championship, Tufts had a 14-game winning streak heading into a rematch against Bowdoin in the NESCAC semifinals. However, Bowdoin dominated 4–1 to extend its postseason winning streak over the Jumbos to five games.
That would be the last game the Jumbos would lose.
After earning the seventh NCAA berth in team history, and the fourth in the last five years, Tufts’ tournament opener was mostly memorable because of the weather. Playing in a snow/ice mix that covered Tufts’ Bello Field, the Jumbos defeated Castleton 8–0. In the second round, the Jumbos eliminated William Smith 4–2, setting up a rematch against Bowdoin in the third round. This time, the women overcame a 1–0 deficit to win 2–1 and earn their first playoff victory against the Polar Bears since 1996.
The victory punched the team’s ticket into the NCAA semifinals for the third time in team history, the first two being in 2008 and 2009. In the semifinals on Nov. 17, they faced an upstart DePauw Tigers team, which had upset NESCAC champion and national number 1 seed Middlebury in the third round. Tufts won 2–0 to advance to the NCAA final for the second time in team history.
“I can’t believe it,” McDavitt says. “We’ve been to the Final Four before—this is the third time. I knew we could do it, but getting here has been a battle. Every game, we had to really earn it, and we did.”
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com.