For many, field hockey is more than just a sport at this school. To the community, it is a point of pride; to spectators it is an event; and to players it’s about keeping a tradition alive.
This fall marks the 40th anniversary of the women’s field hockey program at Bowdoin—an exciting event for any team, but an even more exceptional one for the most successful team in the College’s athletic history. Over 40 years the Polar Bears boast a record of 390 wins, 159 losses, and 17 ties—a record that seems to be moving nowhere but up under the direction of Head Coach Nicky Pearson who is in the midst of her 17th season with the team.
Next year, the first Bowdoin students born after Nicky Pearson began coaching field hockey for the College will matriculate.
“It makes me feel old,” she said with a laugh, “but when I’m standing on the sideline watching the team play I know I’m a small part of this. It’s something to be proud of.”
And she has every right to be proud, having led her team to five D-III Final Four performances, three national titles, and along the way wining NESCAC Coach of the Year seven times.
“Nicky is magical,” said senior Brooke Phinney, a top-scoring sweeper. “She knows the perfect balance of how to motivate us, while also letting us motivate ourselves.”
With 16 seasons already behind her, Pearson attributes the team’s success to her player’s unique ability to place no limitations in each seasons’ goals.
“A while ago a player stood up in front of the team and asked ‘why can’t it be us this year?’ as far as dreaming of winning a National Championship. I think that this got the belief going that we could achieve great things if we came together and set our mind on something,” said Pearson.
Surprisingly, Bowdoin has had only three head coaches in its 40 years. The first was Sally LaPointe who coached the program for 20 years, then Maureen Flaherty for four, and finally Pearson.
“I inherited a terrific program,” Pearson reiterated. “To be honest with you my goal was just to maintain the tradition of the program and enjoy the same success the program had had in the 23 years before me.”
This desire to maintain success bolsters the sense of tradition these women value so deeply. Junior midfielder Liv King embodies this tradition, finishing the path her older sister, Taryn King ’07 began in 2003. Taryn passed away suddenly during her third year at Bowdoin, but Liv cites Taryn’s dedication to the sport and to her team as what has kept her playing and loving field hockey at Bowdoin.
“A lot of it was my sister who played here,” explained Liv, “seeing that to her it was more than just a sport. I didn’t really grasp that until I came here and played field hockey here. It goes far beyond practice—it shapes you not only as an athlete, but as a student and a person.”
“There was such a strong sense of tradition when I came here—one that every player respected and upheld, knowing that you are a part of something more special and bigger than just the sport and bigger than yourself,” said King.
King’s teammate Katie Riley ’14, the Orient’s Athlete of the Week who was just awarded NESCAC Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks, believes that this tradition is maintained through hard work and commitment to the team.
“It’s an environment of accountability. We all have fun when we’re out there, but we think it’s an insult to not push each other as much as we can,” said Riley.
Riley, who leads Bowdoin’s scoring this season with 12 goals and eight assists, is the new face of success for the Polar Bears, who stand this season with 11 wins and only one loss under their belts. The team is ranked third nationally, behind first-ranked Middlebury and second-ranked Salisbury, and a national title seems within reach.
“We all know what our goal is at the end of the season, but it’s kind of unspoken,” said Riley. “We don’t talk about it during season, but it’s something we work towards the whole time.”
Pearson echoes this desire to not “jinx” it.
“Every piece of the season gives us the opportunity to compete in the next phase,” she said. “Right now we’re looking to win our last two regular season games so we can host a NESCAC quarterfinal game. As soon as that’s over, we’ll switch our focus over to the NESCAC tournament, which we’d ultimately like to win.”
To win the conference, however, the team must beat Middlebury, who stands at 12-0 as Bowdoin’s only loss this season. Back in September, the team lost 2-1, unable to follow through on its many shots-on-goal in the second half.
Along with Middlebury, Trinity and Tufts are among the most competitive teams in the NESCAC this year. The Polar Bears have yet to play either.
Tufts who holds a record identical to Bowdoin’s, will travel to Brunswick on October 24, a game that is sure to be a test.
“We are looking forward to our game against Bowdoin,” said Tufts Head Coach, Tina McDavitt, who recognizes the Polar Bears as the team to beat.
“They consistently have one of the best defenses in the nation and always allow very few goals. They have a great history and are always a team that teams are looking to beat. I know that this season they are returning a lot of experienced starters, so I know our game is going to be a battle,” added McDavitt.
Before Tufts though, the Polar Bears will take on Trinity at home on Saturday at 11 a.m. This should be another close match-up, as Trinity has only lost to Tufts and Middlebury so far this season.
The game will be closely watched by the 40 years of alums who will descend on the Bowdoin campus tomorrow for Homecoming weekend.
Brooke Phinney ’13, and her fellow seniors will play their final homecoming game this weekend. Phinney says she hopes that, they can relay how they feel about Bowdoin field hockey to the generations that preceded them, and hopefully to the ones who follow.
“I would honestly say it’s a religion,” Phinney said. “It’s a way of life.”