Field hockey is already off to a solid 2-0 start in its first week of play this season. In their season debut, the No. 12 Tufts handily knocked off Colby in Maine on Saturday by a 6-2 margin before traveling again on Tuesday to edge out a tough No. 10 Babson team 2-1.
Tufts was confident in its ability to win at Colby, as the Jumbos last lost to the Mules in 2003. Upsetting Babson, which entered the contest 5-0 in the season, was less of a sure thing for Tufts and will surely bring the team up in the national rankings (the latest national rankings released on Tuesday before the game put the Jumbos at No. 12 and the Beavers at No. 10).
“Babson’s a great team,” senior Annie Artz said. “They’re super athletic, super fast — it was definitely a great game all around. It was a battle out there until the very end.”
Having won its first five games of the season, Babson had also only lost once in their previous 14 games at home, and had an eight-game regular season winning streak against non-conference opponents.
The Beavers are known for being a physically aggressive team, and they lived up to their reputation on Tuesday night by pressing the visiting Jumbos hard in the first half, racking up two green cards and a more serious yellow card.
“We definitely just stuck to our playing style the whole time with quick and fast connecting passes,” sophomore Gigi Tutoni said. “It’s what we know and what we’re good at. Pushing back or getting frustrated only hurts a team in those kinds of situations, which is why I’m glad we were able to maintain our composure.”
The game started out with both teams playing stifling defense: they combined for just four shots in the first half. Tufts took the lead early in the second half, though, when senior co-captain Dominique Zarrella threaded a pass into the circle and Tutoni redirected it into the back of the net.
Babson roared back and put the pressure on, earning six penalty corners in 11 minutes. Junior forward Elise Towers broke through on the sixth corner when she tipped a shot past Tufts’ goalkeeper, sophomore Emily Polinski, to tie it up.
After a timeout and with just under 15 minutes to play, the Jumbos regained their momentum and earned their own series of penalty corners. Slightly under seven minutes remained when Artz inserted a corner to junior midfielder Celia Lewis and then knocked in Lewis’ shot at the post for the game-winner.
The goal was Artz’s second in as many games, an impressive early showing considering she missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus.
“I’m so happy to be back and playing that the second I stepped back on the field, I was just so amped and ready to go,” Artz said. “I think that’s kind of what’s been fueling the start of the season for me.”
Artz is tied with Tutoni for the team lead in goals scored through the first two games with two each. Tutoni’s assist in the Colby game gives her the team lead in points with five.
“I’m definitely happy with my performance over these past two games,” Tutoni said. “Our team has really pushed ourselves over the summer and these past few weeks, and I think it’s really starting to show. Staying confident is definitely what’s driving our team because we all know we’ve put in the work to accomplish what we want this season.”
The season opener against Colby, while perhaps not as significant a win, was an important early season statement victory that demonstrated the potency of Tufts’ offense.
Six different Jumbos scored on the day, another four earned at least one assist, and the team bombarded the two different Mule goalkeepers with 21 shots, 16 of them on goal.
Tutoni got the scoring started in that game as well, finding the back of the net off a pass from first-year Rachel Hamilton just after the 25-minute mark. The Jumbos followed up with two more goals in the next four minutes to establish a comfortable lead that they maintained for the rest of the game.
Junior midfielder/forward Mary Kate Patton redirected a shot from senior co-captain Nicole Arata into the net on a penalty corner play for Tufts’ second goal and Zarrella added the third shortly after on a pass from Tutoni.
Sophomore Merrill Read scored for the Mules just before the first half ended to put them on the board, but the Jumbos came out dominant to start the second half and quickly extended the lead back up to three with a goal from Artz on a penalty corner insert from junior forward Mary Travers.
Lewis, who fired off four shots during the game, finally netted a goal on another penalty corner play. First-year midfielder Marguerite Salamone picked up her first career assist on the score. The game was already out of reach when Colby scored at the 62:44 mark to bring the score to 5-2. The Jumbos once again answered back though, as junior midfielder Erin Sanders knocked the ball in off another penalty corner assist from Travers with four minutes to go, all but sealing the win.
Despite the two goals allowed, Tufts’ defense looked fairly solid for the first game of the season. Polinski made five saves and the team as a whole limited Colby to nine shots.
Offensively, Tufts also looked very strong: the team was successful on penalty corners, showed that it has a lot of different weapons at the front and got big contributions from younger players stepping up into starting roles.
The Jumbos prepare to host the Bates Bobcats tomorrow in their first home game of the season. The home opener is the inaugural match on the brand new Ounjian Field, which features AstroTurf instead of regular turf.
The new turf will allow for faster ball movement and quicker passing, which is sure to benefit the Jumbos’ short and quick passing game, even if they are just practicing on the new field for the first time today.
“Bates is a great NESCAC team,” Artz said. “Obviously they come with a lot of skill, and they’re fast and disciplined on the field. For us, we like to think about what we can control in a game, and what we can control on the field is how we play our game. For us, our preparation just comes down to how we define Tufts field hockey.”
The game kicks off tomorrow at noon on Ounjian Field, located right next to the old Bello Field, and Tufts will be looking to continue its hot start and set the tone for its conference play this season.