November 21, 2011

            The Middlebury College field hockey team saw its hopes of an NCAA Championship fall short, dropping a 3-1 game to The College of New Jersey. The title game took place on Vendetti Field on the campus of Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts. The Lions won their 14th straight game to finish at 24-2 overall, while the Panthers finish the year with a 17-4 mark. Appearing in the NCAA title game for the sixth time in school history, Middlebury previously won the championship in ’98.

            TCNJ had the best chance early on when Kathleen Notos redirected a pass that hit the post in the 10th minute. Middlebury came back five minutes later when junior Lauren Greer (N. Hampton, N.H.) was denied breaking in as Shannon Syciarz came out to make a save. Less than a minute later, the Panthers had a golden opportunity to score when Greer sent a pass towards the goal. Senior Hannah Clarke (Falmouth, Maine) redirected the ball out of midair, but TCNJ’s Meredith Jeffries was there to make a defensive save.

            The Lions’ nearly broke through at 21:41, when Alex Okuniewicz sent a high shot in on Panther senior keeper Becca Shaw (S. Burlington, Vt.) at 21:41, but Shaw made a blocker save.

            TCNJ scored the only goal of the first half at the 22:59 mark, with Notos netting her eighth of the season. Erin Waller made a nice play with the ball, tipping it to herself twice before finding Notos who swept in a shot.

            Greer broke in one-on-one in the 30th minute, looking to tie the game. Syciarz came way out of the crease to cut off the angle on the right side, as Greer’s shot deflected off Syciarz and over the end line.

            The first half ended with the Lions holding an 8-7 shots advantage and a 6-4 lead in penalty corners.

            Middlebury tied the game up just 2:24 into the second half with Clarke netting her 13th of the season. Sophomore Elinore O’Brien (New Canaan, Conn.) gathered the ball seven yards out, sliding a quick pass to Clarke on the left, who swept in into the cage.

            TCNJ threatened again 10 minutes into the second half with Waller hitting the post in the 45th minute. After a yellow card to TCNJ, the Panthers were to enjoy a player advantage for five minutes, but the Lions scored less than a minute into the advantage, taking a 2-1 lead. Waller earned the goal, scoring with a blast on a penalty corner after a quick pass from Camille Passucci.

            Middlebury looked to tie the game at 53:37, with Syciarz coming out to deny junior Charlotte Gardiner (Larchmont, N.Y.) as she turned quickly and put a shot on the cage. The Panthers threatened again a few minutes later when Greer tried to find Clarke in transition, with a defender breaking up the pass.

            New Jersey came on strong in the 61st minute, but Shaw came up with a pair of big saves on Okuniewicz and Notos. The Lions gained some breathing room with just 5:46 remaining, with a goal on a penalty corner with the Panthers a player down on a yellow card. Waller and Passucci hooked up once again, with a blast from the top of the circle by Waller for her second of the game and eighth of the year.

            TCNJ outshot the Panthers 21-14 in the game, with a 12-7 edge in penalty corners. Shaw finished with six saves, while Syciarz made seven for the Lions.

            Gardiner, Greer and O’Brien earned All-Tournament team honors.

            Middlebury came out strong in the first 10 minutes in the semifinals against Bowdoin, with a penalty corner before Greer had her shot go wide left at the 10:51 mark. Bowdoin came back with a strong five-minute spurt, earning three penalty corners, with no quality scoring opportunities.

            After a violation, the Panthers were awarded a second straight penalty corner at the 21:35 mark. Gardiner injected to first-year player Catherine Fowler (Grosse Pt., Mich.), who took a quick dribble and ripped a shot on goal. Senior Lucy Jackson (Bronxville, N.Y.) was open in front, deflecting the shot into the top of the cage for a 1-0 lead at the 21:35 mark. The goal was the second of the year for Jackson.

            Middlebury continued to pressure and doubled their lead with 3:07 remaining in the first half. Gardiner carried the ball into the area before getting a quick pass to Greer who turned and flipped a reverse stick shot high into the cage.

            The Panthers ended the first half with a 9-4 shots advantage, with Bowdoin holding a 4-3 edge in penalty corners.

            Bowdoin turned up the pressure early in the second half, earning five penalty corners between the 40th and 46th minutes. Shortly after a Middlebury penalty corner, O’Brien drove 20 yards straight to the goal with some nice stick-work, scoring her fifth of the season to make it a 3-0 game at the 50:56 mark.

            The final 20 minutes featured back and forth action, with neither team mustering up a quality scoring chance. Shaw made two saves in goal for Middlebury to earn the win, stopping both of Bowdoin’s shots on goal in the game. Kayla Lessard finished the contest with four saves for the Polar Bears.

            Middlebury held a 14-9 shots advantage, owning eight shots on goal to a pair from Bowdoin. The Polar Bears had a 10-8 advantage in penalty corners.

            The loss broke a 26-game winning streak for Bowdoin, dating back to October of 2010. The Polar Bears end the season with 13 goals allowed, seven of them coming at the hands of Middlebury. The victory for the Panthers was just its second in the last 14 games between the schools, including five post-season meetings.
• Field hockey final record: 17-4