After 19 wins, a NESCAC championship game appearance and a dominant run through the NCAA tournament, Tufts fell just short of a national championship, losing 2–0 in the title game to a familiar foe, Middlebury.
The stage was set on Saturday, when Tufts ousted Johns Hopkins in a convincing 3–1 victory. The Jumbos struck first through sophomore midfielder Beth Krikorian and added a pair of goals in the second half from junior forward Rachel Hamilton and senior forward and co-captain Gigi Tutoni. Tutoni’s goal was the 31st of her career, tying her for fifth in program history. Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, Middlebury put away Rowan in the late game 4–2 to set-up a mouthwatering all-NESCAC final.
The Panthers were a thorn in the Jumbos’ side all season, handing them their only two losses before the NCAA tournament: one in the regular season and one in the NESCAC title game. On a neutral site in Manheim, Pa. and with the match moved indoors due to weather concerns, all bets were off.
On the field’s fast AstroTurf, which fits their playing style well, the Jumbos got off to a quick start, controlling possession and keeping the ball in the Panthers’ end. Tufts’ pressure culminated in the team’s winning the first penalty corner of the game in the eighth minute, but the Middlebury defense was able to hold its own and turn away the attack.
Middlebury soon generated its first opportunity through a penalty corner, and one was all it needed. Middlebury junior midfielder Marissa Baker’s shot was blocked 13 minutes in, but sophomore defender Erin Nicholas knocked the ball into the goal from a tight angle on the right side.
The goal did not change the complexion of the game, however, as possession and momentum remained in the Jumbos’ favor. Tufts racked up seven penalty corners in the first half, but the Middlebury defense held strong on each occasion. Despite the Jumbos’ lopsided advantage in shots (8–3), the Panthers went into halftime up a score thanks to Nicholas’ strike.
“I thought we really dominated the first half in terms of shots and corners, and we just couldn’t finish on our corners,” coach Tina Mattera said. “I think [Middlebury has] a really strong defensive corner unit, and we were having trouble getting the ball in and getting shots on cage.”
The Panthers made the right adjustments at halftime, gaining control of possession in the second half. The Jumbos were unable to get off a shot in the first 20 minutes of the half, prompting a timeout from Mattera.
The timeout did not prove fruitful, however, as Tufts could not shift the tide in its favor. Four minutes later, Nicholas cemented the Panthers’ lead with a diving sweep shot from the left side into the right corner of the net for her 17th goal of the season. Nicholas’ second goal of the game left Tufts down two scores with just 11 minutes to play in the title game.
The Jumbos fought hard to find a way back into the game in the waning minutes of their season, winning a pair of penalty corners and generating all four of their second-half shots. Despite a few promising chances, Middlebury senior goalkeeper and co-captain was forced into just one save in the final stretch. With under two minutes left, Tufts pulled first-year goalkeeper Andie Stallman to put an extra attacking player on the field, but the team was unable to cut into Middlebury’s lead.
The Panthers claimed their third NCAA title in four years, shutting out the Jumbos for the second time in the 2018 season.
“I’m incredibly proud of the whole team,” Mattera said. “I think that we had such excellent leaders in Gigi Tutoni and [senior midfielder and co-captain] Fallon Shaughnessy and just a great team dynamic this year. Everyone bought in, everyone understood that they were such a valuable part of the team.”
Tufts finished the year with a 19–3 record, with both NESCAC and NCAA runner-up honors to boot. The team’s appearance in the national title game was its fourth, following its victory in 2012 and losses in 2008 and 2016. While the Jumbos will graduate six seniors this year, they are confident in their prospects for the future, due to a host of rising talent.
“We had four [first-years] starting this year, so I’m pretty excited about what the future will bring,” Mattera said. “Now that they’ve had a taste of it … I see really good things for the future.”