In one of the best seasons in team history, the No. 4 Jumbos completed their regular season on Wednesday, defeating the No. 12 Bowdoin Polar Bears by a score of 2–1. The Jumbos didn’t have much time to celebrate the season’s success, though, as the NESCAC Tournament began on Sunday after rain delayed the initial Saturday start. The Jumbos were successful in their first postseason game of the season, defeating the visiting Amherst Mammoths 2–0 to advance to this weekend’s semifinals.
With a 9–1 conference record, the Jumbos secured the No. 2 seed in the NESCAC, giving them a matchup against the No. 7 seed Amherst Mammoths (10–6, 5–5 NESCAC). While the seeding would normally indicate a favorable matchup in the first round, there is no easy game in NESCAC field hockey. Even though the Mammoths ended up as the No. 7 seed, the team put up an impressive regular season, defeating the third-seeded Williams Ephs (12–4 overall, 7–3 NESCAC) and narrowly falling to the Jumbos in overtime earlier this year.
As has been the case all year for the Jumbos, controlling possession and getting off more shots on offense was their key to success. An excellent corner from junior midfielder Marguerite Salamone kicked things into gear. In the 11th minute, her corner met senior midfielder and co-captain Fallon Shaughnessy, who laid it off to sophomore midfielder Beth Krikorian. Krikorian then passed left to senior forward Hanaa Malik, who fired her shot past the onrushing Mammoth defenders.
Offense was hard to come by for the remainder of the first half, though, as the Jumbos were only able to get four shots off in the half and only one after Malik’s goal. Their best opportunity to extend the lead in the period came in the 31st minute, when another well-placed corner by Salamone again met the stick of Krikorian, who this time snapped a shot towards goal. However, on this occassion, Amherst senior goalkeeper Katie Savage did not let the shot by her.
Luckily for the Jumbos, first-year goalkeeper Andie Stallman and her defensive crew held up their end of the bargain, only allowing two shots in the first half — one missed high and the other was saved by Stallman. The clean sheet was Tufts’ seventh straight first half holding its opponent scoreless.
The defense remained sharp in the second half, only allowing one Amherst shot despite a run of convincing penalty corners in the 53rd minute. Meanwhile, the Jumbos’ offense kicked into gear, getting up 13 shots in the latter period. Their insurance goal wouldn’t come until late in the game, though, when first-year midfielder Claire Foley turned a loose ball into a solo shot into the net five minutes from time to make the score 2–0.
“We really wanted to show everyone that we were the No. 2 seed [and] that we are one of the highest ranked teams in the nation,” Malik said. “Amherst got a penalty corner early in our regular season game and scored, so we wanted to make sure that we didn’t let that happen again as well as getting a corner and scoring ourselves within that first five minutes or so.”
Meanwhile, the Jumbos’ regular season finale against the Polar Bears was an excellent final test of their abilities heading into the postseason, and the team stepped up to the plate with a 2–1 victory. Krikorian struck early in the first half, sinking an unassisted goal a little over eight minutes into the game. The rest of the half would go by without an additional score, but not for lack of offense, as multiple shots were saved on both ends in the first 35 minutes.
Another unassisted goal by Salamone provided insurance early in the second half, and it came in handy as Bowdoin finally scored through junior forward Emma Stevens in the 66th minute.
“It’s funny because I was a little hard on Marguerite Salamone the day before the game about scoring in the post,” coach Tina Mattera said. “Then the next day she did it. I joked with her after the game that I should be hard on her more often. Really though, she’s been a really great player this season so it was nice to see her get the game-winner.”
It was too little, too late, though, as Bowdoin was unable to equalize in the final four minutes, securing a 2–1 Tufts victory. While the win didn’t have any implications for Tufts’ NESCAC Tournament seeding, getting a tough victory on the road over a ranked opponent gave the team a nice boost of confidence heading into postseason play.
The semifinals and final of the conference tournament will play out this weekend, as the Jumbos take on the third-seeded Ephs on Saturday. With the top-seeded Middlebury Panthers still in the tournament, the remaining games will be hosted on Kohn Field in Middlebury, Vt. Tufts beat Williams 2–0 in its regular season matchup on Oct. 20, but Williams has responded since that defeat in a big way, recently giving Middlebury its first loss of the season in a resounding 4–2 triumph.
“The awesome and terrible thing about the NESCAC is that there are no easy games,” Mattera said. “I really respect Williams as a program and they’re going to be a tough team to beat, but we’re focused on just playing our game because we know we can beat anyone.”
The winner between Tufts and Williams will go on to play the winner of Middlebury-Trinity match on Sunday in the NESCAC title game.