The last time the Tufts field hockey team took the field — for last November’s 1–0 loss to Messiah College in the NCAA Div. III national championship game — the weather favored a snowball fight to a sporting event. Players on the sidelines bundled up in oversized parkas and wool hats to combat the 20-degree-Fahrenheit wind chill in Geneva, N.Y. Both the snowfall and scoreless game grew increasingly intense before crescendoing in a heartbreaking shootout.
The scene was much different this week, in the conditions and on the scoreboard, as the Jumbos kicked off their 2017 season with two key games.
Temperatures drifted into the mid-80s on Tuesday as No. 2 Tufts hosted No. 6 Babson, also a Final Four contestant last year. The visiting Beavers jumped out to an early 2–0 lead, as sophomore forwards Carla DiBiase and Kate Driscoll scored in the ninth and 32nd minutes, respectively.
“I thought we came out really flat,” Tufts coach Tina Mattera said. “We seemed flustered and frazzled, and [we] didn’t know how to handle the pressure they were putting on the ball. It was a pretty disappointing first half.”
Tufts responded with inspired play in the second half, though, peppering Babson’s goalie, sophomore Deirdre Barry, with 11 shots. The breakthrough came for the Jumbos after 58 minutes, when senior forward Mary Travers slotted home her second goal of the season. Just three minutes later, senior midfielder Celia Lewis scored off a set play to send the game to overtime.
“I was really proud of how we came out in the second half,” Mattera said. “We could have folded, and instead, we came back and had a lot of courage and determination, which said a lot about the team’s character.”
The Jumbos believed they scored the winning goal five minutes into the extra session via a tipped shot in front of the net. However, the referees conferred and ruled that Lewis’ initial shot had been dangerously high.
“From my point of view, I thought it looked good,” Mattera said. “Obviously, [it was] a huge momentum shift for us. We talk about taking care of the game ourselves, [and] I think we need to play better hockey. You can’t blame the refs.”
Just two minutes later, sophomore forward Tori Roche won it for Babson, sliding a shot past Tufts’ goalie, junior Emily Polinski.
Although the Jumbos outshot the Beavers, 19–9, and held a 10–2 advantage in corners, they failed to convert their chances. Babson (5-0), on the other hand, registered just eight shots on goal, but scored on three of them.
“[Barry] played great,” Mattera said. “We had some really good shots that she ended up getting a touch on.”
Three days prior, Tufts comfortably dispatched visiting Colby College, 3–0, under a lazy blue sky at Ounjian Field. It marked the 14th consecutive season in which the Jumbos have defeated the Mules.
Despite several early opportunities, Tufts didn’t open the scoring until 17 minutes in, when Travers converted a set play. The Princeton, N.J. native tipped junior midfielder Claire Trilling’s shot past Colby’s goaltender, junior Riley Whitmyer.
“[Whitmyer] is one of the best [goalies] in the league, so we had talked about getting tips and touches in front because direct shots are really hard to score on her,” Travers said.
That was all the scoring the Jumbos needed, as Polinski made four saves and was supported by lockdown defense from senior defender Amanda Weeks, junior defender Issy Del Priore and senior co-captain Ellexa Thomas — who shifted to defense after playing midfield last year.
“Experience goes a long way,” Mattera said. “Issy and Ellexa understand the game, and they know where they’re supposed to be.”
Polinski, in her third year as the Tufts starter, comes off a 2016 season in which she pitched 11 shutouts and allowed just 13 goals.
“I can [always] hear Emily yelling and organizing,” Travers said. “That energy and presence on the field is so helpful. It’s awesome to have somebody you’re confident in as your last line of defense.”
Ten minutes after Travers found the back of the net, junior forward Gigi Tutoni tacked on a second for Tufts. The goal capped a long period of sustained pressure by the Jumbos, during which Whitmyer made several of her eight saves. Sophomore forward Rachel Hamilton added an insurance goal in the 51st minute to round out the scoring.
Tufts (1–1) hosts two NESCAC opponents this weekend: Conn. College on Sept. 16 and Trinity on Sept. 17.
“I’m excited about the depth we have,” Mattera said. “We need to have a little more attitude and edge. We brought that in the second half [against Babson], but it was too late.”
While their extremities may still be recovering from last year’s championship game, the Jumbos have their eyes set squarely on 2017.
“I’m never going to forget last season, but the best thing we can do is to take [this season] one game at a time,” Travers said. “We had our offseason to reflect on that loss, and now it’s time to focus.”