In a captivating game against the then-No. 1 Middlebury Panthers during Parents and Family Weekend, the Tufts field hockey team put up an impressive fight, defeating Middlebury 1‒0. This win leaves the Jumbos with a 12‒2 overall record and an 8‒1 record in NESCAC play. The Middlebury Panthers lost their 20-game winning streak, marking their first loss of the season. Their record drops to 13‒1 overall and 8‒1 in NESCAC play. Currently, Tufts, Middlebury and Bowdoin are tied for the first seed in conference play.
The Jumbos sought to defeat the Panthers this weekend after their previous matchup ended in a heartbreaking loss last season during the NCAA finals game. Playing with noticeable agility and conviction, the Jumbos dominated Saturday’s game.
In the first few minutes, Middlebury seemed to control the game, having a calm demeanor when approaching the ball. However, Tufts slowly began to develop its high press, hindering Middlebury from effectively transferring the ball and opening up the field. This gave Tufts offensive momentum during the first half, as the Jumbos had four attempted corner plays against the Panthers in the beginning quarter, while Middlebury saw no offensive corner action.
Leading into the second quarter, the tone of the game became more aggressive, as evident in the assertive plays and hard cuts both sides made. The crowd grew more contentious as players on both teams received green cards on different occasions. However, the half carried out with hardly any offensive chances for either team, as the ball traveled in the middle of the field for most of the quarter.
The Jumbos dictated the majority of the third quarter, constantly putting pressure on the Panthers’ defensive line. A near goal attempted by senior midfielder Marguerite Salamone early in the third quarter allowed the Jumbos to gain more traction. Minutes later, Tufts had three consecutive offensive corners but were not able to capitalize on these shots. Another corner was called after a foul occurred in the circle, and the Jumbos were given another opportunity to create a lead.
On the fourth penalty corner in the third quarter, the ball was inserted by Salamone and sent to senior forward and co-captain Rachel Hamilton. Hamilton quickly sent the pass back to a waiting Salamone, who chipped the ball near the stroke mark. Sophomore midfielder Gillian Roeca netted the ball into the cage for the game-winning goal.
Middlebury was eager to compensate for its goal deficit and made its way into Tufts’ defensive circle. With less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Panthers netted a ball during a corner play, which was ultimately ruled as a no goal. Confused Panther fans on the sidelines expressed their concerns about the game and made little effort to conceal their worry leading into the last quarter.
The Jumbos were determined to maintain their lead throughout the fourth quarter as the tensions on both sides grew. Tufts lost some of its offensive momentum in the fourth quarter due to the Panthers adamant offensive line. Middlebury had four shots on goal during the fourth quarter, but none netted a goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
When asked what contributed to the team’s success against Middlebury, Roeca mentioned a strong game plan as a key focal point.
“I think that the team stayed composed throughout the whole game,” Roeca said. “We used a high press against their defense, allowing everyone to get the ball at some point, and we had a great defense who kept the ball out of the defensive 25 almost the whole game”
Coach Tina Mattera shared similar sentiments when asked about her team’s performance.
“I think that our game plan worked really well,” Mattera said. “The players understood it, studied it, and they knew what needed to happen. I was really proud that we were able to implement our game plan.”
Heading into the week of practice before the Middlebury game, sophomore midfielder Claire Foley spoke about how the team prepared for the match.
“[Our] team watched a ton of film, practiced our different defensive strategies against them, marking their players and corners,” Foley said. “We knew that if we got corners we would be able to score, so we spent time perfecting those.”
This win was crucial for the Jumbos and allowed them to prove their strength after losses against the Panthers last season.
When asked about how this win felt after losing to Middlebury in last year’s NCAA finals, Coach Mattera shared her thoughts.
“It felt awesome. Last year was tough, we lost in overtime, then we lost by one goal, and then we lost by two goals and they were our only three losses,” Mattera said. “It was pretty tough to look at the stats and know that we had more shots and more corners but were not able to finish. So I was really proud of the girls for finally finishing, and I know that we can beat them. It’s finally great to implement it and actually get it done.”
Roeca also spoke about what the win means for the Jumbos as they move into the offseason.
“[This win] shows that we are a really strong team and that the national championship last year could have gone either way,” Roeca said. “Unfortunately, it went their way, but they are going to have a tough time getting back there with us competing against them this year.”
The Jumbos play their regular season finale against Bowdoin on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at Ounjian Field.