With two trips to the national championship game and a national title under their belts, the seniors of the field hockey team had one trophy they were yet to win in their illustrious careers at Bowdoin: that of the NESCAC title.

They finally brought it home last Sunday, taking down rival Middlebury 2-1 on Howard F. Ryan Field to give the program its first conference championship since 2011. The Polar Bears will take on Keene State at home tomorrow at 11 a.m. in NCAA tournament second-round play. If they win, they’ll advance to Sunday’s 1 p.m. regional final against the winner of Wellesley v. the University of New England.

Middlebury had captured the previous three NESCAC titles with two one-goal wins and a penalty shootout victory over Bowdoin. For this year’s Polar Bear squad, finally overcoming the hurdle of beating Middlebury on the conference championship stage brought both relief and confidence for games to come.

“I can still envision the [Middlebury] girls taking pictures on our field last year with the NESCAC plaque, and that’s something I’ll never get out of my head,” said Rachel Kennedy ’16, who scored a goal on Wednesday and was named the NESCAC Player of the Year for the second straight season. So it was a great win to have our senior year on our turf.”

“It just gives us so much confidence,” said Kim Kahnweiler ’16, who was earned the honor of NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year. “Out of any game, that was the roadblock we needed to get by. That was the game that, mentally, we told ourselves our job would never be finished until we did it.”

The day before, Bowdoin took down Amherst in the semifinal round by a 4-0 score. Kennedy spearheaded the offensive flurry with a hat trick in the game’s first 45 minutes.

“Coming off the game on Saturday, the team felt confident,” said Head Coach Nicky Pearson, who won her ninth NESCAC Coach of the Year award this season. “We had played well defensively and limited the opportunities that Amherst had, and we had converted our chances. So we took a lot of positives from that game and carried it forward to Sunday."

“All week in practice, you could see that they had only one goal in mind,” Pearson added. “I think the younger players really picked up on how determined particularly the senior class was to win a NESCAC championship before they graduate. That determination and focus in practice was really contagious and made the younger players realize this was a really big deal for them, and I think they responded well.”

Kennedy led off the scoring on Sunday with a goal only 12 minutes into the game.

“Liz was going for a fast break on the right side, and then she sent a pass over to Kimmy Ganong [’17] who was stroke level—mid-circle—and she sent a hard shot,” she said. “The goalie saved it, but there was a rebound and I was in the perfect place to get it. As I got it, I was pushed and I dove and found the corner. That was a very important way to set the tone for the game.”

“It always feels good when it starts so far back the line because it makes you feel like everyone was involved in the goal,” said Kahnweiler.

Only seven minutes later, Middlebury tied it up with a goal off a deflection. While Bowdoin entered halftime feeling as if they were controlling play, the winning goal didn’t come until a 55th-minute shot from Emily McColgan ’17.

“It was off of a corner. Kimmy sent it out to me, I stopped it, and Kelsey [Mullaney ’16] had the hard hit in,” said Kahnweiler. “It actually bounced off of one of the defenders’ feet and then hit the goalie pads. It popped out and Emily McColgan collected it and lifted it over the goalie.”

Bowdoin bore down defensively for the game’s last stretch, including a tense final two minutes that saw Middlebury pull its goalie to bring on an extra attacker.

There were 40 seconds left and they were right about to enter our circle and I was just praying that they weren’t going to get a corner,” said Kennedy. “There was actually a play in the circle where Kim was playing hot potato with her feet because if the ball touches your feet they get a corner.”

“I didn’t know during the game that they had pulled their goalie,” said Kahnweiler. “I don’t normally mark during the game, but all of a sudden I hear our goalie yelling ‘There’s another player,’ and that just added into the whole confusion. I didn’t know that time had actually run out when it ran out.”

The Polar Bear faithful stormed the field at the sound of the final horn.

“All of our parents and friends were on the field. We had professors coming up and hugging us, which is just really special, to have all that support,” said Kennedy.

The team now turns its attention to the NCAA tournament. Undefeated and the unanimous No. 1 team in D-III as ranked by the National Field Hockey Coach’s Association poll, Bowdoin earned a first-round bye and will serve as one of four host sites nationwide four second and third round play.

Keene State advanced to the second round with a 1-0 home victory over Husson on Wednesday. The Owls are 17-7 on the season, and went 9-2 in the Little East. They beat Eastern Connecticut State in the conference’s championship game last Saturday to earn an automatic NCAA tournament bid. They’re led by Little East Offensive Player of the Year Sami Smith, who was first in the conference in points and goals scored.

As the team prepares to face foes from across the country, Coach Pearson believes NESCAC competition has exposed them to many types of teams.

“When you look across all the field hockey programs in the NESCAC, many of them have different systems, different styles, different strengths, different weaknesses,” she said.

Kennedy and Kahnweiler, however, took note of several foreign styles of play they’ve seen in past NCAA tournaments.

“In the NESCAC, there’s definitely a style of quick passes, two-touch hockey,” said Kennedy. “Once you get out of the conference, especially against teams like [The College of New Jersey] last year, there are a lot more aerials, which we hadn’t really seen.”

“There’s a lot more fancy play. While we focus a lot on stick skills, it’s not really part of our game to try and dribble through five people,” said Kahnweiler. “When we face teams that do that, it takes us by surprise.”

Despite its unbeaten record and No. 1 ranking, the team claims to feel no extra pressure heading into the national tournament.

“Our goal was to finish first in the league and we achieved that, then we closed that chapter,” said Pearson. Then our focus was on the NESCAC tournament and winning that, and we’ve achieved that. So we’ve closed that chapter, and now we’re on a new mission. I don’t think we look at it cumulatively, really, we look at it as separate chapters.”