The field hockey team was not supposed to even make it to the ECAC tournament — let alone win it all.
Even after beating Brown University to end the regular season three games above .500, Yale’s chances at making the playoffs were tentative.
But, this weekend, the Bulldogs plowed through their postseason competition amid wet and cold conditions. The Elis upset top-seeded Dartmouth (11-6, 5-2 Ivy) in the semifinals 3-1 on Saturday before shutting out No. 3 Drexel (10-8) 1-0 yesterday to win the ECAC Championship at Yale’s Johnson Field.
Drexel beat Boston University (11-9) in the other semifinal match-up on Saturday 3-1.
Goalie Krissy “Spike” Nesburg ’04 was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“We’re psyched, we’re psyched,” head coach Ainslee Lamb said. “I’m so happy for them. It’s been a dream season.”
The Bulldogs opened the fall with a 2-6 record, but they clicked into gear midway through their schedule, reeling off seven straight victories to close out the regular season.
“They weren’t cocky during the streak,” Lamb said. “They didn’t assume victories. They played with a different passion from earlier in the year.”
Though their incredible surge catapulted the Bulldogs from the cellar of the Ivy League standings into a tie for fourth place with Cornell, the Elis’ postseason plans were doubtful.
After Princeton and Harvard secured NCAA bids, Dartmouth was assured one of the four ECAC tourney spots. But Yale’s case was more complicated. Because Yale and Cornell had identical Ivy League records, the ECAC selection committee reviewed various criteria to choose. Both squads were on par in strength of schedule and performance against common opponents. And though Cornell defeated Yale 2-1 this year on Sept. 28, Yale had the advantage in overall winning percentage and number of significant wins, edging out the Big Red.
On Saturday, the fourth seed Bulldogs faced off against Dartmouth, who defeated the Elis 2-0 Oct. 12. But that loss was the last for the Bulldogs this season.
It did not take long for Yale to assert its dominance in the rematch with the Big Green.
“We relaxed and just played,” forward Suzanne Anthony ’03 said. “We didn’t worry about the little things, and it all worked out.”
Anthony put the Bulldogs on the board with an unassisted first-half tally. Stephanie Dolmat-Connell ’04 increased the Eli lead by scoring at 29:33 in the second half, with Jana Halfon ’04 recording the assist on the play. Less than three minutes later, Dolmat-Connell found the back of the net again.
With the 3-0 lead, the Eli defense took over and for 20 minutes, both backfields controlled the tempo of the game. Nesburg, the league leader in saves this season, recorded three saves in the game and was one of Yale’s keys to success.
“She’s one of the best in the country,” Lamb said. “She did what she’s been doing all year — she kept us in the game, and we executed in attack.”
Nesburg’s bid for a shutout was ruined when Big Green forward Carolyn Steele scored with 5:10 remaining to play.
Yale took the momentum from that win into the finals against Drexel. The two teams were evenly matched. The only difference in the game was Meredith Hudson’s ’05 goal off a penalty corner toward the end of the first half. Sarah Driscoll ’05 and Halfon both earned assists on the play.
Most of the game’s battles took place at midfield; neither team was able to get more than five shots off.
“It was a tough game,” Anthony said. “They gave us a scare at end, but our defense was able to hold them off.”
In the closing minutes of the game, the Dragon attack proved relentless, but every attempt to score fell short.
“They were knocking on the door,” Hudson said. “We didn’t know we had it locked up till the last 20 seconds.”
The Bulldogs had the final possession, and they pushed the ball upfield as the crowd counted down the final 10 seconds.
During the postgame ceremonies, Eli captain Rachel Burnes ’03 accepted the ECAC championship plaque and promptly handed it to her teammates. Nesburg received the MVP plaque.
“Her leadership has been phenomenal this season,” Lamb said. “She wanted to win and demanded the same level of desire from her teammates. That leadership is one of the reasons we made it this far.”