Tufts dominates NESCAC rival in season opener

Junior Alexandra Jamison fights for the ball in a 4-2 victory over Middlebury College on Oct. 5, 2013. Daily File Photo

In a dominant performance that bodes well for the upcoming season, the Jumbos shut out the NESCAC rival Bobcats 4-0 on Saturday in their season opener at Bello Field.

The 2012 NCAA National Champions kept Bates on its heels for almost the entire game, behind a relentless offense that unleashed 29 shots and a coordinated defense that limited Bates to just three shots.

Tufts opened the scoring just after the 15th minute mark when senior midfielder and co-captain Brittany Norfleet sent a pass to sophomore forward Dominique Zarrella, who buried it in the back of the net. Junior midfielder Maggie Chapman followed up with a goal of her own six minutes later to put the Jumbos ahead 2-0 before the second half started.

Tufts fired 12 shots before Bates managed its first shot against the Tufts defense, and the first half ended with an 18-1 shot differential.

“We did a good job of getting open for each other and getting the ball into the circle,” Zarrella said. “We’ve all been gelling really well during practices, whether it’s connecting on our passes or communicating on the field, so it was good to see that that transferred to the game too.”

The second half continued much the same way as the first, with the Jumbos getting off another 11 shots, two of which — one by junior midfielder Rachel Terveer and one by sophomore forward Annie Artz — found the back of the net.

“Our forwards really clicked, and I think they’re going to do well this year because they have a lot of good chemistry,” senior co-captain goalkeeper Brianna Keenan said. “They really work well with each other, and I think that’s one thing that made a difference in the score yesterday — our dominance in how well our forwards were working together.”

But the defense was equally as dominant, and Keenan only needed to save two shots to earn her 16th career shutout.

“We obviously have a lot of things to work on, but we looked good for a first game,” Keenan said.

The Jumbos enter this season ranked seventh in the nation following a pair of strong seasons, both of which took them to the NCAA tournament. Kicking off the team’s conference play with a win was a crucial first step to a successful season, as the NESCAC will once again be one of the toughest conferences in the nation.

In its quest for a NESCAC title, which has eluded the Jumbos since 2009, Tufts will have to take on No. 3 ranked Middlebury as well as defending NCAA National Champion and this year’s No. 1 ranked Bowdoin. Making those games even tougher is the fact that Tufts will have to face both teams away from home, where the Jumbos are undefeated since Oct. 29, 2011.

This season, the team will have to contend with the graduation of several of last year’s top performers, including the Jumbos’ lone 2013 all-NESCAC first team member.  Tufts can take solace, however, in the fact that NESCAC second team members Norfleet, junior Dakota Sikes-Keilp and junior Alexandra Jamison are returning to lead the team.

The Jumbos also boast a number of offensive threats, as evidenced by the four different goal scorers on Saturday, none of whom were Sikes-Keilp, last year’s leading scorer. With a year of experience under their belts and significant work put in during the off-season, Artz and Zarrella in particular are poised to become not only starters, but also key players this season.

“Personally, I’ve been working on scoring more, taking more shots on goal, being super tenacious inside the circle, and also on my defense,” Zarella said. “I also want to work on being a more creative forward.”

Tufts will have no shortage of challenges in the coming months as the team faces off against some of the fiercest competition in the country, but the Jumbos feel like they are up to the task.

“We’ve talked about how our overall goal is to make it as far as possible in the NCAA tournament, but at the same time we’re not focusing on that yet,” Keenan said. “We’re just focusing on one game at a time, one play at a time. So right now Babson is our most important game.”

The Babson Beavers will host the Jumbos tomorrow at 6 pm in a non-conference game.