Tufts suffered its first defeat of the season at the hands of No. 3 Middlebury on Saturday (14–1, 9–1 NESCAC) in a tense 10–9 showdown. Despite the loss, the Jumbos bounced back with a 14–13 overtime win over Bowdoin (9–6, 5–5 NESCAC) on Wednesday night.
The Jumbos played their last home game of the regular season on Bello Field on Wednesday, and it took them less than 30 seconds to find the back of the net when senior midfielder Annie Sullivan fired an unassisted shot from distance. The teams went goal-for-goal for the first 15 minutes, and every loose ball was a physical battle. The Jumbos figured out early that they were more effective on scoring from feeds, and senior attacker Dakota Adamec scored twice consecutively. Meanwhile, the Polar Bears scored all three of their first goals from right-handed drives from the outside, as the Jumbo defender was outpaced.
Bowdoin took a 5–3 lead after two quick goals on the back of several turnovers and interceptions. Junior attacker Emily Games answered with a low shot while being pursued in the middle of the eight by a trio of defenders. With 9:52 remaining in the first half, the Jumbos evened the score at 6–6 after senior midfielder Cecily Freliech fired home on a fast break. Adamec made it 7–6 with an unassisted left-handed drive as the momentum for Tufts started to set in. However, the Polar Bears managed to stay neck-and-neck, leveling the score at 8–8. The Polar Bears had 20 fouls compared to the Jumbos’ six by the end of the first half.
The Polar Bears dominated early in the second half, winning the first three draws and capitalizing on their possessions to put up two goals. After more than 10 scoreless minutes for the home side, the Jumbos got one back through Games on a free position goal, but the Polar Bears answered with two more to stretch the lead out to 12–9.
Two quick goals by Adamec and first-year attacker Mae Briody brought the difference to one with 6:09 remaining. A free position shot by Sullivan ricocheted off the post, and seconds later Games beat her defender to even the score with only 4:28 remaining. Bowdoin regained the lead at 13–12, only to receive a yellow card with two minutes left in the game. Adamec capitalized immediately, beating a double team in an already-man-down Bowdoin defense for an easy run to goal, tying the game at 13 apiece.
With 58 seconds remaining, winning the draw was absolutely pivotal, and Bowdoin came away with it. With 10 seconds left, Bowdoin fired point blank at first-year keeper Molly Laliberty, and she made the most important save of the game to send it to overtime.
Adamec grabbed the first draw of overtime and immediately gave Tufts the possession it needed to end the game. Games was fouled en route to goal and went on to score her free position shot, ending a physically exhausting game. The Polar Bears committed 43 fouls over the course of the hour, close to three times as many as Tufts, but ultimately the Jumbos’ skill shone through.
Earlier in the week, Tufts traveled to Middlebury, Vt. to face a team it had only beaten twice in the last decade: the Middlebury Panthers. Though the Jumbos fell by an excruciatingly close 10–9 scoreline, the team’s postseason is unlikely to suffer as a result of the single loss, and the Jumbos will still boast a record-breaking 2019 season that will grant them a postseason berth.
“The biggest message after the game was that Middlebury didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves,” junior midfielder Margaret Chase said. “It sucks because it means we made tons of mistakes. But it also means that if we have an opportunity to play them again in the postseason, it’s not that it’s out of our control. It’s not that the other team was better than us; it was that we made mistakes and didn’t play our best.”
Games opened the scoring, netting a free position shot just over a minute into the game. Though the Panthers answered with a pair of goals, Briody provided two consecutive assists to Adamec and first-year midfielder Kathryn Delaney to regain a narrow Jumbo lead. Senior attacker Courtney Grygiel then added a third goal to put the Jumbos up 4–2, but the Panthers went on a three-goal run of their own to close out the half.
The Tufts offense struggled with Middlebury’s constant high-pressure defense. Normally, teams are only able to sustain a high-pressure set for a short amount of time because it is incredibly tiring. However, the Panthers enacted this highly pressurized style of defense for the entire game, forcing the Jumbos to respond accordingly.
“Having the defense play high pressure the whole time made us a little panicky, and we started to throw the ball away and make mistakes,” Delaney said. “The few times that we found the back of the net were when we were patient and found our space and the open man on the back side. It was when we didn’t try to make plays too quickly and let the shot clock run down that we executed on our goals.”
Tufts spent the second half of the game playing catch-up and came extremely close to closing the gap, tying the game at 9–9 with under five minutes remaining. With 2:29 remaining, though, Panthers first-year midfielder Jane Earley tallied her fourth goal of the game to give her team the win. Earley was subsequently named NESCAC Player of the Week for her game-winning performance.
The Panthers’ high-pressure defense forced the Jumbos into poor clearances, demonstrated by Middlebury preventing six of Tufts’ clears (17–23). Tufts also recorded 19 turnovers, far higher than its average of 13.4. Time and time again, the well-disciplined Tufts defense recovered the ball only to turn it over seconds later, forcing the team to defend again.
“The clear was definitely an area that we struggled with the most and is something that we’ve looked back at a lot on film,” Delaney said. “Middlebury did something different that we hadn’t seen before, and we didn’t adjust in the game as well as we should have. Now that we’ve talked about it as a team and with our coaches, if we do see it again it will be a different story.”
Despite the loss, there were several positive takeaways for the Jumbos. It was one of the defensive unit’s most impressive showings. First-year midfielder Madison Lehan face-guarded Middlebury’s top scorer, senior attacker Emma McDonagh, and limited her to one shot the entire game.
With the regular season behind them, the Jumbos look to the first round of the NESCAC tournament. As the No. 2 seed, they will host Trinity this Saturday at 12 p.m.