This past weekend brought a cascade of unusual results and surprising upsets to the NESCAC, and Tufts wasn’t immune as the team suffered an unexpected 1-0 loss to second-to-last place in the NESCAC Conn. College on Saturday. The Jumbos bounced back quickly to take down a tougher Trinity Bantam team 4-2 on Sunday and came out of the conference-wide shake-up in great position, taking over sole possession of first place in the NESCAC and leapfrogging the defending national champion Middlebury Panthers in the national rankings to claim the No. 4 spot.
Tufts headed to No. 11 Trinity looking to make a statement, according to first-year forward Marguerite Salamone. After their Saturday loss, they were able to get back to their more characteristic style of play and claim a decisive win.
“I think the difference started just from our pregame in the locker room,” junior midfielder Mary Kate Patton said. “We like to have fun and we like to sing and dance, and we have a pretty consistent routine before every game. And I think that was partially what was lacking before Saturday’s loss — that same enthusiasm and desire to win that we normally have. We came out wanting vengeance — the Conn. game was something we should have won and [we] should have battled and scored more — and I think the Trinity game was an opportunity to shine and show that we deserve to have the spot we do in the NESCAC.”
The Jumbos got on the board early and often. Senior forward Annie Artz broke through Trinity’s defensive line just before the 10-minute mark and made Trinity pay with a goal.
The Bantams quickly responded on their next penalty corner to tie it up a few minutes later, but the tie didn’t hold for long. Junior forward Mary Travers took a pass from first-year forward Rachel Hamilton in the circle and flipped it into the top corner of the net to take back the lead at 22:55. The Jumbos quickly made it a two-goal lead when they earned a corner and inserted to junior midfielder Celia Lewis, who fired it in for the third goal exactly a minute after Travers’.
The Bantams put on renewed pressure in the second half, outshooting the Jumbos and earning six corners to the visitors’ zero. The hosts narrowed the margin to one goal ten minutes into the half, but Artz gave her team an insurance goal in the 53rd minute and Tufts hung on for the 4-2 win.
Perhaps it was the two and a half hour bus ride down to Connecticut on Saturday morning or the full week between games, but the Jumbos arrived in New London out of rhythm while the hosts were fired up. It was Senior Day for the Camels and a must-win game if they wanted a postseason — one more conference loss would have guaranteed their failure to make the NESCAC tournament.
The Jumbos were the more aggressive team and dominated play in terms of possession and scoring opportunities, getting off 11 shots and earning 11 penalty corners to the Camels two shots and two corners. The Jumbos’ play was also sloppy and somewhat sluggish, though, while the hosts played with a fierce enthusiasm that kept them in the game.
“At the end of the day, every win is about a team effort,” Patton said. “And I think that, as a team, we just couldn’t find a way to connect the same way we have in the past and as we managed to do at Trinity … We should have capitalized when we had the opportunity, but it doesn’t always work, or something’s missing, and I think it was just the team communication that we were lacking in that game.”
The game remained scoreless until the final minute when Tufts was whistled for a penalty in Conn. College’s end. Conn. first-year Jamie Navoni, seeing most Tufts players upfield, took the quick restart and raced toward Tufts’ end. After breaking through the Jumbos’ defensive lines, she got a one-on-one opportunity against sophomore goalie Emily Polinski, who came charging out but could not stop Navoni’s shot. With the clock running out, the Jumbos didn’t have much of an opportunity to respond.
“Conn. didn’t stop battling for the ball,” Patton said. “I think it’s easy to make excuses for what happened but Conn. was determined to score in that last minute and they were a fast team and they took the ball quickly. It was really just a big defensive breakdown and something we wanted to be more cautious about. It’s just [about] how can we be in control until the very last second of the game and prevent defensive breakdowns, and getting ourselves back to help our goalie, because putting her in a one-on-one situation is not ideal.”
The loss was the first time this season that the Jumbos were shut out and it came against a Camels defense that is ninth in the NESCAC in goals against per game with 1.97. Both Patton and Salamone cited a lack of determination to finish in the circle as one of the biggest factors in the team’s scoring woes.
“I think [lacking the determination to finish is] kind of where the connection and the communication failed in some ways,” Patton said. “I think we just needed to be better about communicating where everyone else was on the field. So if a shot was going to goal, just connecting and finding each other in front of the net.”
“I think, for one, we have to acknowledge that we were going against a really good goalie,” Salamone said. “She had obviously had a lot of saves on us because we had a lot of shots but just couldn’t put it in. Conn’s actually a really good team, and I don’t think their record reflects that, and they just worked harder than us in that game.”
After the weekend, Tufts moves to 10-2 overall and 6-2 in NESCAC play with two more conference games left in the final week of the regular season. Among the weekend’s surprising NESCAC twists, both No. 18 Hamilton and No. 20 Williams beat Bowdoin — the No. 1-ranked team in the nation at the start of the season and the current No. 3 team — while Trinity beat No. 5 Middlebury.
Tufts faces Williams at home this weekend on Senior Day and then travels to Bowdoin next Wednesday. But the Jumbos are in the driver’s seat: Williams and Bowdoin are mired in a four-way tie for fourth place in the conference and the pressure will be on them to claw their way out of it. Tufts also has history on its side this weekend, having won the last 13 match-ups against Williams dating back to 2005, while Bowdoin, normally a powerhouse field hockey program, is reeling after this weekend’s shocking upsets.
“We’re [going to] focus on exploiting Williams’ weaknesses,” Salamone said. “We watch film all the time, and [base our strategy on that] like we did with Middlebury [when] we adjusted our press so that we could exploit Middlebury’s [overly aggressive offense].”
The team travels to Gordon College this afternoon for a non-conference game. The Jumbos are already gearing up for the NESCAC games to follow and — with the top seed for the conference playoffs on the line — they’ll be looking to come out with determination to prove that the loss to the Camels was just a fluke.