The NCAA tournament is not just around to decide the national champion of baksteball and hockey. In fact, there is a championship tournament for every inter-collegiate sport. The Quinnipiac field hockey team, thanks to its win in the finals of the NEC tournament, advanced to the NCAA tournament.
In the play in game, the Bobcats had to face No. 19 American University who was 16-3 coming into the game. The Bobcats were 9-10 coming into the contest and were making their second NCAA tournament appearance in three years.
The game was controlled by American early on and they scored the first goal, thanks to Javiera Villagra who put the ball in the back of the net with 20:01 left in the first half. Junior Meredith Klein, of West Long Branch, N.J., was able to tie the game with a shot from the right circle with under 10 minutes to go in the opening half. Senior co-captains Eileen Gallagher, of Drexel Hill, Penn., and Heather Hamwey of, Walpole, Mass., each had an assist on Klein’s goal.
The score stayed 1-1 going into the half. With high hopes for the second half the Bobcats came out and put up a fight. However, Camila Infante was able to sneak a shot past Bobcat goalie Erin McKay to give American the 2-1 lead which they would never relinquish. Villagra was able to record to more goals to give her the hat trick. The second of her three was scored with 11:55 left in the game and the hat trick goal was scored with 9:00 minutes remaining, blasting a shot into the upper right corner of the net.
McKay tallied 17 total saves, her second highest make of the season.
Looking back on the season, the Bobcats accomplished their main goal: to win the NEC and advance to the NCAA tournament. But the season was more than just that. The preparations the team made to face its opponents made the games much more competitive.
“We beat teams like No. 16 Hofstra and Bucknell and stayed so competitive with huge teams like Virginia,” said Gallagher. “Ultimately, it was the distinctive spirit of this year’s team that propelled us to change what we needed and win the NEC championship.”
The team started off 1-5, with the only win coming in a 5-0 home win against St. Francis (PA). After the first six games, the Bobcats went 8-4. Three of these wins came at Hofstra in a 1-0 victory, and NEC tournament wins against Sacred Heart, 1-0 and Rider 2-1.
When going into the NEC tournament, the Bobcats were 7-9 and were underdogs to in the conference crown. “The greatest part about winning the NEC was that we were the underdogs going into the tournament,” said Hamwey. “The feeling was indescribable.”
“We were the underdogs, and we pulled through,” said Klein. “Never under-estimate heart or emotion, because that is what wins a game, and that is why we won.”
After coming off the highly emotional NEC championship win, the Bobcats suffered the proverbial let down when it came to the NCAA play-in game.
“The girls from Chile [Villagra and Infante] were their entire team,” said Klein. “They are international players, and are on a completely different level than us.”
The inability to control the American University stars was the downfall of the Bobcats. They played an outstanding first half where they were able to keep the score 1-1. The lack of intensity and focus allowed American to jump to the quick lead and never look back.
“As a team, we needed more patience and smartness playing defense against the two South Americans on American University’s team,” said Gallagher. “The loss, however, will be a great motivation for the girls next year.”
Next year, the Bobcats will return 18 players next season, only losing four seniors, Gallagher, Hamwey, Erin Gunn, of Vineyard Haven, Mass., and Loren Montgomery, of Saugus, Mass.
“Were going to be just as good next year, if not better. We are losing two starters and two emotional leaders,” said Klein. “We have a lot of returning starters and the bench is just as stacked.”
The Bobcats will return all their key players and will reload with incoming freshmen to help the drive to the NCAA tournament again.
“I have no doubt that the girls, my teammates, have the talent and determination to take home not only the NEC championship again, but the NCAA play-in game,” said Gallagher. “It will be challenging because they are not underdogs anymore so they have expectations to uphold, but those girls have great attitudes and no one wants it more than they do.”