After bouncing back from a tough homecoming loss with a decisive win against the University of New England, Tufts field hockey suffered its biggest setback of the season so far over the weekend in a 6-1 loss to Middlebury. The Jumbos now stand at 7-2 in the season and 3-2 in conference play, leaving them sixth in the NESCAC with five more conference games left to play.
The team went into Saturday’s game ranked fifth in the nation, having lost only one game and given up two goals on the season. The matchup against No. 4 Middlebury, which had only lost to No. 2 Bowdoin, was expected to be a fierce struggle.
Instead, amidst rain that lasted most of the game, the Jumbos struggled mightily and fell to the Panthers by a five-goal margin.
“Middlebury was a very strong team offensively, and did a good job of scouting our weaknesses on defense,” senior co-captain goalkeeper Brianna Keenan told the Daily in an email. “They were very relentless and skilled, and had very effective penalty corner conversions.”
Middlebury came on strong in the opening minutes, earning a penalty corner just over two minutes in and scoring on a shot from Middlebury sophomore Pam Schulman, tapped in by freshman Annie Leonard.
Keeping the pressure on, the Panthers struck again eight minutes later when another ball from Schulman was tapped in, quickly putting the Jumbos down by two. Tufts was on its heels for most of the first half, putting together just one sustained attack and getting a single shot on goal in the opening stanza, as Middlebury kept the ball predominantly in the visitors’ half of the field.
The Jumbos staved off the Panthers’ relentless offense for the rest of the period, but the hosts started the second half strong, and tallied a third goal just over a minute into the half when Schulman connected with Leonard again.
A few minutes later, Schulman got a goal of her own when she knocked the ball in from a scrum in front of the net, and then added another shortly after that. Staring at a 5-0 deficit and having trouble with a tough Middlebury defense, Tufts tried to get something going late in the second half.
With under nine minutes to play, the Jumbos finally found the back of the net to prevent the shutout, when sophomore forward Dominique Zarrella, the team’s leading scorer, redirected a shot from junior midfielder Dakota Sikes-Keilp that got past the Panthers’ keeper.
Middlebury quickly reestablished its five-goal lead, however, immediately driving down the field on the restart and adding a sixth goal just over 30 seconds later against a tired Tufts defense.
“[The loss] showed us that we need to work on playing well together as a unit, rather than just playing well individually,” Keenan told the Daily in an email. “We’re hoping things are going to start to click more … offensively and defensively, and we’re also hoping to use the things we’ve worked on in practice more effectively in the games.”
“Working on both our individual defensive positioning and our defensive pressure as a team from the forward line to the defensive players will be vital for our upcoming games this weekend,” junior midfielder Rachel Terveer added.
For the first time this season, the Jumbos were clearly outmatched on the field. The Panthers held a 14-6 advantage in penalty corners, and out-shot the Jumbos 16 to 6, with 15 of the 16 shots on the goal.
On Tuesday, in a very different game, Tufts picked up its seventh shutout victory of the season in a 3-0 win over the University of New England. Before this game, the Jumbos had just fallen in a fierce battle with Amherst at home that ended in a 2-1 loss, their first of the season.
Tufts was slow to get going offensively. Just over 30 minutes in, the Jumbos took a 1-0 lead when sophomore forward Ashlyn Salvage knocked in a rebound off of a shot from senior co-captain Brittany Norfleet for her first goal of her collegiate career.
Norfleet scored a goal of her own late in the second half, her fourth of the year, off of a pass from Sikes-Keilp. Freshman midfielder Mary Travers, in her third goal of the year, brought the game to 3-0 with just over three minutes left.
The Jumbo defense was solid, giving the opponents few shooting opportunities. Keenan recorded her seventh shutout of the season in goal with five saves, including impressive back-to-back saves on a pair of successive shots in the 51st minute.
Though the recent loss to Middlebury exposed some vulnerabilities in Tufts’ game, the top 10 team will likely be able to bounce back as it did against University of New England after last weekend’s homecoming loss. The team’s upcoming match against Conn. College, which is 1-4 in the NESCAC, will be the perfect opportunity to do just that.
“We’re still focused on taking everything one day at a time, learning from the loss while staying positive, and only focusing on the things we can control,” Terveer told the Daily in an email. “Watching film from the game to learn from our mistakes is an important thing for us to do to be ready for this upcoming Saturday’s game.”
The Jumbos have been shaken, but they remain one of the top contenders for the conference title.