The Jumbos have not slowed down since the start of the season, racking up two more decisive wins to move to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in NESCAC play. No. 6 Tufts did not allow a goal from the opposing team in either game, extending the team’s shutout streak to five games.
Over the weekend, No. 17 Mary Washington flew up from Virginia only to be beaten 2-0 by Tufts in a game in which the hosts dominated throughout. On Tuesday evening, Tufts played the Wesleyan Cardinals at home on the new Astroturf on Ounjian Field. Wesleyan traditionally lingers near the bottom of the NESCAC and Tufts flexed some offensive muscle in a 6-0 win.
The win over the Cardinals, though, was still an important statement victory for the Jumbos as the Cardinals upset them 3-2 last season. The Jumbos avenged last year’s defeat, as they unloaded 34 shots against Cardinal senior goalie Claire Edelman while completely stifling the Cardinal offense and not allowing a single shot.
After nine minutes of consistent pressure to start the game, junior forward Mary Travers forced Edelman to come out of the net to make a save on her shot. Sophomore forward Gigi Tutoni got her stick on the rebound and snuck it just over the goal line for the first score, despite Wesleyan junior defender Brooke Hodgson’s near-defensive save.
Though the goal briefly gave Tutoni the team lead in goals scored on the season with six, senior forward Annie Artz was determined to reclaim the lead she’s held most of the season. Just before the 19-minute mark, Artz found herself in position to send another rebound back into the net to put the Jumbos up 2-0 and tie Tutoni with six total goals. Eight minutes later Artz reclaimed sole possession of the team lead when she fired in her second goal of the game off a pass from Tutoni, bringing her total to seven.
For good measure, Travers gave the Jumbos a commanding 4-0 lead just before halftime, sending another rebound into the net for a score of her own. With the game no longer competitive going into the second half, coach Tina McDavitt Mattera was able to give most of her bench players significant playing time, with 20 different Jumbos seeing the field.
The second half was much less eventful, though junior midfielder Celia Lewis and sophomore midfielder Claire Trilling tacked on goals to bring the final score to 6-0. Trilling’s goal was the first of her collegiate career. In contrast to the first half scoring, both goals were fired in from near the top of the circle with pace and Lewis’s score came on a penalty corner, the only one of 11 that the Jumbos converted.
Despite the dominant win, and although the team has gotten much better at finishing in the last two weeks, Tufts will need to better capitalize on penalty corners and finish in the circle, especially as it gears up for a tough second half of the season against stronger defenses and likely will see fewer goal-scoring opportunities.
Nevertheless, the Jumbos dismantled the Cardinals. They maintained possession in the Cardinal half of the field for most of the game with superior passing and stick skills and they were especially able to keep the ball in the Cardinal’s circle for long periods of time, wearing down the defense with repeated shots that brought Edelman out of position in goal.
With the whole team pressuring Wesleyan’s possessions from the forwards back, the defense made sure the ball rarely made it close to Tufts’ net. In a rare occurrence for a field hockey game, Wesleyan finished without a single shot or penalty corner.
A portion of the Jumbos’ advantage came from the field itself. The Jumbos have clearly gotten comfortable practicing on their new, smooth Astroturf every day, while the Cardinals practice and host games on a regular turf field.
“Everyone plays better on Astro,” Travers said. “I think — because I have pulls and stuff like that — the Astro really allows me to showcase my skills … You know, being able to play on Astroturf every day, as opposed to just having a game here and there on Astroturf, really pushes us to push our skills and gives us the opportunity to be that much better.”
In its closer win over Mary Washington on Saturday, Tufts was nearly as dominant in ball possession and held a commanding advantage in shots. Lewis got the first score in that game on a penalty corner halfway through the first period. Senior co-captain defender Nicole Arata picked up her fourth assist on the play. Travers picked up her team-leading fifth assist just before halftime when she fed a ball in front of the net that Tutoni tipped up and over Eagles sophomore goalie Jessica Cavolt.
Though the Eagles were able to get off four shots in the second half, the Jumbo defense held on to ride out the 2-0 shutout win. Sophomore goalkeeper Emily Polinski, who has not recently been called upon to make saves due to the strength of Tufts’ defense, finished with three saves.
The win helped Tufts move up to sixth place in the national rankings as of Tuesday morning. In a testament to the respect that Tufts has garnered nationally, Mary Washington actually moved up from No. 18 to No. 17 after losing in Medford.
Tufts last five shutouts have been lopsided affairs; the Jumbos have outscored their opponents 19-0 and outshot them 150-18. Polinski has been good in front of the net, but she has also only seen six shots on goal over that stretch. Tufts’ consistent offensive pressure and lockdown defense have broken opposing teams down.
“We’re obviously very proud of [the five-game shutout streak] and want to continue it as we continue to face tough opponents,” Arata said. “Our defense is still trying to work on communication and organization, but those shutouts come from our forwards really being a strong first line of defense, [and] blocking up a lot of free hits [from opposing offenses]. [We’re just getting good] defense from every single person on the field.”
After struggling to finish on goal-scoring opportunities despite plenty of opportunity in recent weeks — especially against Bates and Wellesley — the offense has made progress in the past few games, Travers said.
“We’ve definitely had a focus on finishing in practice,” Travers said. “You know, Bates was great, Wellesley was great, and we did everything right to get 30 shots, we just needed to finish that. The transfers were looking good, the possession passes were looking good, so in practice we just focused on ‘what are you going to do in the circle to finish?’ And that’s been huge, just that extra focus.”
Riding a wave of momentum, the team now prepares for a big Homecoming weekend in which they will host NESCAC rivals No. 13 Amherst on Saturday and Hamilton on Sunday. The Jumbos are currently the only undefeated team left in the conference, but have their work cut out for them to stay that way this weekend.
“We’ll just need to focus on playing our game,” Arata said. “That means having good two-touch passing across the field, and trusting our system … as well as scoring on corners, which we’ve been working on a lot in practice.”
The action on Ounjian kicks off Saturday at noon against Amherst and continues on Sunday at noon against Hamilton.