National Champs Abound
Tufts athletes had a busy—and wildly successful—Memorial Day weekend, winning the NCAA lacrosse crown and garnering a repeat NCAA softball championship. Jana Hieber capped off her Tufts career by capturing the national title in the 400-meter hurdles.
Lacrosse Wins It All in Baltimore
The Tufts men’s lacrosse team beat Salisbury University 12–9 to win its second NCAA championship at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium on May 25.
Junior Cole Bailey was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring a goal with five assists. Senior goalie Patton Watkins made 17 saves for Tufts, including eight in the third period as Tufts held off a late charge by Salisbury. Sophomore Ben Andreycak, junior Peter Gill and sophomore John Uppgren also scored twice for the Jumbos, with Uppgren adding two assists. Sophomore defenseman Blake Wood forced two turnovers, and senior Kane Delaney grabbed five ground balls.
“I think our offense did a great job today,” Uppgren said. “We’re not one-dimensional. We have seven or eight guys who can go out there and produce on any given day and take the game over. I thought it was a great team effort on the offensive end.”
Finishing the year at 21–2, the Jumbos set a program record for victories in a season. With 12 goals in the game, Tufts finished the 2014 season with 423 goals, setting a NCAA Division III single-season record. Their seven assists in the game gave them 45 in the NCAA tournament to set another national mark.
This was the third time Tufts and Salisbury have met in the NCAA final. The Jumbos won 9–6 in 2010, and the Sea Gulls prevailed 19–7 in 2011. The Jumbos capped a 2014 season in which they won their fifth NESCAC title in a row earlier this month. Playing in their sixth straight NCAA tournament and seventh overall, Tufts has compiled a 17–5 record in NCAA tournaments overall following this year’s 5–0 run.
More than 19,000 fans were in attendance at the game. “It’s just a great tribute to our alums and all the people and friends that support us,” Tufts head coach Mike Daly said.
The Jumbos scored first on a goal by Peter Gill 55 seconds into the game, but Salisbury had the next four overall. Salisbury, which also finished 21–2, shut down the Tufts offense in the first period and scored three goals for an early lead.
In the third quarter, the Jumbos took their first lead since being up 1–0, with Andreycak scoring twice in the first 3:03. His second goal came during a man-up situation and gave Tufts a 7–5 lead. A good save by Watkins led to a five-goal Tufts run that put the Jumbos in control of the game with a 12–6 lead.
The Tufts defense stepped up in the fourth quarter as Salisbury tried to get back in the game, scoring three times and cutting the Jumbo lead to 12–9. But Watkins was at his best in the final six minutes, making several saves. Meanwhile, the Jumbo defense limited Salisbury’s quality shots.
“We’ve been in the shadow of the offense all year,” Watkins said. “Scoring 20 goals a game, it’s hard to look spectacular on defense, but we’re not worried about that. We’re not worried about the individual awards. We’re just focused on the next stop on defense, getting the next ground ball, the next clear and the next goal.”
Soon the Jumbos were storming the field to celebrate another national title.
In winning their second NCAA championship, the Jumbos overcame the early deficit and a 5–2 disadvantage in penalties. Tufts shut down the first four man-up chances by Salisbury until their final goal.
Bailey’s Most Outstanding Player Award capped a season in which he won the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Turnbull Award for Outstanding Attackman, was a First Team All-American and was named NESCAC Player of the Year.
“I wouldn’t have that award without the guys who are playing with me,” Bailey said about the Most Outstanding Player honor. “They set me up for so many successful plays. It’s an honor to play with them.”
Softball Repeats in Shutout
Junior Allyson Fournier pitched a six-hit shutout, and sophomore shortstop Christina Raso drove home three runs as the Tufts University softball team won its second straight NCAA championship on May 27 with a 6–0 victory against Salisbury University at the University of Texas-Tyler.
The Jumbos (47–4) become the first NCAA Division III softball team to win back-to-back titles since St. Thomas (Minn.) did it in 2004–05. In the best out of three series to determine the 2014 NCAA champion, head coach Cheryl Milligan’s Jumbos had lost 2–1 in game one on May 26. But they rallied later that same day, winning the second game in a 14-inning, 6–0 victory.
“It’s amazing,” Milligan said. “We lost yesterday, and it had been a long time since our last loss. We didn’t feel too hot, but we pulled game two out in the wee hours last night. Then to come back today on fire, really ready to go, is a testament to this team’s spirit and their drive and how hard they worked for this.”
Fournier, who shared Most Outstanding Player honors with senior catcher Jo Clair, pitched 24 straight shutout innings in the championship series against the Sea Gulls. The stretch began in the fifth inning of game one, continued through all 14 innings of game two and finished with the final shutout win. In the final game, Fournier struck out five and walked one, while improving her final season record to 28–1.
“Whenever I get the ball, I just go out there and do the best that I can, try to get every batter and take it pitch by pitch,” said Fournier. “It’s just an honor to be able to play at this stage against such great competition, but to win two years in a row is an unreal feeling.”
Raso, the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year, led with her bat in the championship final by driving home runs in two separate innings as the Jumbos built their lead. Senior left fielder Sara Hedtler also concluded an excellent series by going 2 for 4 with an RBI in the final game. Junior center fielder Michelle Cooprider scored twice while finishing the game 3 for 4.
While Tufts was building its 6–0 lead in the first three innings, Salisbury had sent just one batter above the minimum to the plate through four innings.
Unlike in game two, when Tufts didn’t score until the 14th inning, the Jumbos put two on the board early in game three with a two-out rally in the second. Cooprider singled to right to get it started, and first-year right fielder Carrie Copacino followed with a walk. Raso’s single up the middle scored Cooprider and sent Copacino to third. Hedtler followed with an infield single, scoring Copacino; it was 2–0 Jumbos.
The Jumbo bats continued to produce in the third, adding four more runs, and Tufts led 4–0.
“One of the things that we’ve done really well over the course of the season is adjust,” Milligan said. “Day to day we have been great at making adjustments. We had some players who really struggled yesterday have really great days at the plate today.”
Clair, who was walked eight times in the NCAA finals out of respect for the ferocious bat she wielded this spring, hit .412 (7/17) with four home runs, eight RBIs and seven runs. With her four home runs in Texas, she finished the season with 24, tying for second-most in NCAA Division III history. She finished her Tufts career with 67 home runs, third on the all-time Division III list.
“It can’t get any sweeter than this, to end a career on the highest note you can possibly end it on,” Clair said.
Fournier, in addition to earning all five Tufts wins, posted a 0.76 earned run average during the tournament, allowing five earned runs in 46 innings. She struck out 39 and walked nine.
The win gave the 2014 Tufts team a new school record for victories in a season with 47. Tufts was making its third straight appearance in the NCAA finals. They won the title in Eau Claire, Wisc., last season against Cortland. With their 5–1 record in Texas to win the title, Tufts now holds a 47–25 all-time record in NCAA play.
This was the women’s 14th NCAA appearance overall. They became the seventh NCAA Division III program to win multiple NCAA titles, and the second in New England. They are just the third team to win back-to-back titles, including Eastern Connecticut in 1985–86.
The talk of repeating started right after the 2013 season, when Coach Milligan and Fournier were in Los Angeles last June. Fournier was there to receive the Honda Sports Award as NCAA Division III Athlete of the Year.
“We started saying everybody who has won a national championship has one national championship ring. The only thing to do is go get another one,” Milligan said. “We’re going to go home, probably take a couple days off,” she continued, “and start thinking about next year.”
Jana Hieber Wins NCAA 400 Hurdles Outdoor Title
In a tremendous finish to her Tufts women’s track and field career, senior Jana Hieber won her first NCAA title in the outdoor 400-meter hurdles on May 24 at Ohio Wesleyan University.
In a race where four competitors finished under 60 seconds, Hieber won the national championship with a time of 58.63 seconds. She was seven-tenths of a second faster than runner-up Tashina McAllister (59.33) from Wartburg and New England rival Ashante Little from Wheaton College (59.38) in third place. Montclair State’s Heather Gearity was fourth, finishing one second back (59.64).
The wins over McAllister, Little and Gearity were monumental for Hieber. McAllister was the 2012 NCAA champion and 2013 runner-up in the event. Gearity won the event at NCAAs last season. Little broke the NCAA Division III all-time record in the 400 hurdles earlier this season (58.56). She is a two-time NCAA national champion in the 400 meters and a 12-time All-American overall. Hieber had qualified second for nationals behind Little in the 400 hurdles, with a 58.58 time, which broke a 10-year-old Tufts school record.
“Going into the final today I knew it would be a really tough race,” Hieber said in an email from Ohio. “There were some fierce competitors, and I knew they would bring their all into this race. It was a beautiful day outside, hardly windy and really warm, perfect for fast times.
“During the race I was just focused on, well, running as fast as I could!” she said. “It was a pretty wonderful feeling coming off the last turn and feeling that there was no one around me. Those last five meters were pretty surreal. I still can’t believe it!”
The All-American honor accompanying the win is the sixth of Hieber’s career. In March, Hieber scored third in the NCAA Indoor Pentathlon.
This is the first national championship won by a member of the Women’s Track and Field Program since the distance medley relay team earned back-to-back national titles in 2008–09. Jessica Trombly, whose school record Hieber broke earlier this season, was the last individual champion when she also won the NCAA 400-meter hurdles in 2004 (59.98).
“It was a really proud moment for me to stand on top of the podium today,” Hieber said. “It’s been a long road, and I am so thankful for my amazing team and coaching staff for supporting me the whole way through. It’s a good day to be a Jumbo!”
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com.