Field hockey upset by Bowdoin, postseason status in jeopardy

Tufts midfielder/forward Mary Kate Patton, LA, '18, passes the ball in the homecoming game against the Middlebury Panthers on Oct. 7. (Evan Sayles / Tufts University)

A week that began with much optimism ended in dismay for the Tufts field hockey team, which hosted Bowdoin twice in the span of four days due to a scheduling coincidence. On Oct. 25, the Jumbos closed out the regular season by clinching second place in the NESCAC standings with a 3–0 win over the visitors from Maine. The two teams then met again in the first round of the NESCAC tournament on Saturday, as the seventh-seeded Polar Bears stole a shocking come-from-behind 2–1 victory.

“It was an emotional roller-coaster this week,” junior goalkeeper Emily Polinski said. “We knew playing Bowdoin the second time within such a short period would be tough. [Both teams] tried to make adjustments, and they came out on top … as a result of a few plays.”

The Jumbos hosted a first-round game in the NESCAC tournament for the third consecutive year, courtesy of their second-place finish in the conference’s regular season standings. The game featured a reprise of the regular season finale, with then-No. 4 Tufts taking on a Bowdoin side that it had defeated 3–0 earlier that week.

“We watched a lot of film over the two days [in between the games],” Tufts coach Tina Mattera said. “My assistants worked on putting together good practices that would help the girls make some modifications and changes going into the game on Saturday.”

Tufts senior midfielder/forward Mary Kate Patton opened the scoring in the 27th minute following a controversial goalmouth scrum, in which it appeared that senior forward Mary Travers had scored. However, the referee instead ruled for a penalty stroke, which Patton, a co-captain, calmly slotted past Bowdoin first-year goalkeeper Maddie Ferrucci.

The Polar Bears responded five minutes after halftime to even the score at one. After junior defender Elizabeth Bennewitz’s initial shot was blocked, the ball bounced straight back to her, and she flung a shot through traffic that Polinski had no chance of stopping.

After Tufts failed to capitalize on six corners in a ten-minute span, Bowdoin marched down the field and scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. Sophomore forward Emma Stevens, the Polar Bears’ second-leading scorer, gathered a pass from fellow sophomore forward Kara Finnerty and quickly rolled a shot into the bottom left corner of the net at the 52:56 mark.

The Jumbos were unable to mount a sustained attack in the remaining 17 minutes, as the defense failed to connect with the attack on several long balls. With the pace and tone of the game becoming increasingly frantic, Tufts earned two corners in the last minute of play, but a final shot from distance went wide, giving Bowdoin a dramatic victory.

“Defensively, Bowdoin was much more prepared to play us than [it was] the first night,” Polinski said. “It’s always tough playing a team the second time, no matter what the seeding is.”

On Oct. 25, Tufts capped the regular season by blanking Bowdoin in a 3–0 victory at Ounjian Field. While the win had no effect on the NESCAC standings — the Jumbos had already locked up the league’s second-best record — it did have potential bearing on seeding in the NCAA tournament.

“We had already secured the second spot, but we knew that for NCAA purposes, we needed to win every game,” Mattera said.

The hosts had their foot on the gas pedal immediately, winning a corner in the opening seconds. Shortly thereafter, Tufts junior forward Hanaa Malik sent an airborne cross through the box, which junior forward Gigi Tutoni knocked into the net for her sixth goal of the season. Tufts doubled its lead with three minutes remaining in the first half, as junior midfielder Claire Trilling blasted a long-range effort past Ferrucci.

“Our forwards don’t tend to get a lot of credit because of [our] low goals-against average,” Polinski said. “Our offense does a great job in the game, working hard to make sure … the ball’s going in the goal, and at practice, making sure the defense is prepared to play whichever opponent we face.”

Senior midfielder Celia Lewis rounded out the scoring in the 43rd minute, following a period of sustained pressure by the Jumbos. The Houston, Texas native corralled a loose rebound and slid it past Ferrucci for her fourth tally of the season. It was the seventh time this season that Tufts had three different goal-scorers in the same game.

“Our junior and senior classes are super talented, and they also have experience,” Mattera said. “A lot of them have been starters for multiple years, so they know what it takes [in] big games. The nice thing is, I feel like we don’t have a star player. If you look at scoring across the whole team, it’s very balanced compared to other schools.”

Bowdoin controlled play for the remainder of the game, outshooting Tufts 16–4 in the second half. The Jumbos’ back line held strong, though, as Polinski recorded eight saves and junior defender Issy Del Priore made two goal-line stops. With the win, the Jumbos secured a regular season record of 11–4 (8–1 NESCAC).

While Tufts appeared to emerge with a comfortable victory, the match was more evenly matched than the scoreline suggested, setting the stage for Saturday’s nail-biter. The Jumbos benefited from a few fortuitous bounces and missed calls, on both offense and defense, in the 3–0 win.

“We completely dominated on Saturday, and we lost, and they had more shots and corners on Wednesday, and they lost,” Mattera said.

The Jumbos must now wait out the remainder of the NESCAC tournament, which concludes Sunday, to see if they’ll receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Ranked third in their region (behind NESCAC rivals, Middlebury and Williams) and with five losses on their record, the defending national runners-up know that a tournament berth is a long shot. 

“It will shake out to what happens this weekend,” Mattera said. “If Middlebury wins the conference and Williams comes in second, I think that will benefit us. There are only four at-large bids … and everybody who got an at-large bid last year only had four losses. I’m hoping that the committee takes into account how strong the NESCAC is, and that we had a really successful season last year.”