Undefeated regular season? Check. NESCAC championship? Check. National championship? They are just a few games away.
After decidedly beating Trinity 2-0 on Saturday, the Polar Bears overcame Middlebury 2-1 for their seventh NESCAC title on Sunday. The team starts the NCAA D-III tournament tomorrow as the top seed, undefeated at 17-0.
The Polar Bears, in their ninth shutout of the season and their second against Trinity, scored two goals in the second half of the semifinal game. No. 3 Middlebury, meanwhile, beat No. 2 Amherst 2-1 in overtime in the other semifinal game.
Bowdoin, in one of its two regular season overtime games, beat Middlebury 3-2 on September 24.
"When we [first] played Middlebury, it was only our second NESCAC game of the season, so we knew that both teams had changed a lot and grown a lot since that game," captain Katie Herter '12 said.
While Middlebury dominated the rhythm of the championship game for the first half, Bowdoin's defense played hard to prevent them from scoring. Bowdoin was able to hold D-III's top scorer Lauren Greer to just five shots on goal, and no scores.
"Our center back Kassey Matoin '13 shut [Greer] down completely and she barely even touched the ball," Herter said. "When you're able to take away one of their huge scoring threats, that's big in that it crushes their team if they don't know who to look for."
Ten minutes into the second half, captain Ella Curren '12 scored to put Bowdoin ahead, but Middlebury's Catherine Fowler scored an unassisted equalizer off a Polar Bear mishap less than 10 minutes later. The game threatened to go into overtime until Liz Clegg '12 capitalized on a shot attempt that bounced off Middlebury's goalkeeper with 1:48 left in regulation.
"We knew that it was going to be a hard game," Herter said. "It always is with Middlebury. There's so much rivalry."
The game was so challenging, in fact, that Middlebury had more shots, in total and on goal, than Bowdoin—only the second time this has happened to the Polar Bears all year. Bowdoin had 14 shots—nine on goal—compared to Middlebury's 15 and 10. The intensity of the game was surely due to the talent of both teams, but the rivalry lies deeper than that.
"Three years ago we beat them in both the NESCAC championship and the national championship, so they still hate us for that," Herter said.
For players like Herter, who joined the team in 2008, this will be their fourth foray into the national tournament, and the next step toward playing on three national championship teams. Herter said she thinks that this year's team is among the best she's played on.
"This team is really lucky in that every single person is a threat," she said. "There's not just one person that is the superstar. We're on such a deep team that anyone could go in and do an unbelievable job."
Bowdoin had a handful of players given All-NESCAC honors this week. Curren was named Defensive Player of the Year; Curren, Herter, and Clegg were named First Team All-NESCAC; defender Brooke Phinney '13 won Second Team honors. Additionally, Head Coach Nicky Pearson won the Coach of the Year for the eighth time.
Bowdoin, having earned the NESCAC's automatic bid to the D-III Tournament, got a first-round bye and will play Keene State at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Ryan Field. Keene State (20-4) beat Endicott Wednesday in a 2-0 match to advance to the second round of the tournament.
Because the field hockey team hasn't played Keene State yet this season, they won't have the advantage they've had in the NESCAC tournament of knowing what to expect in terms of matchups and strategy.
Due to uncertainty surrounding the kind of team that will show up against them tomorrow, Herter said the Polar Bears "need to focus less on who we're playing and more about our own game and playing our best."
With a team that hasn't lost in 24 straight matches, has conquered three of the last four D-III titles, and has just had arguably its best season yet, it's scary to think that even more is yet to come.