Nov. 18, 2010

 

By John Packett
Special to NCAA.com


In the small, tight-knit community of Division III field hockey, the schools that usually dominate the headlines and final four are Messiah, Ursinus, Salisbury and Bowdoin.

Salisbury (Md.) has won four NCAA championships in the last seven years, including the 2009 crown, while Bowdoin (Maine) claimed two of the past three. Ursinus (Penn.) snared one (2006) and Messiah (Penn.) has been a runner-up on seven occasions.

Three of those schools - Bowdoin, Ursinus and Messiah - remain in the hunt for the 2010 title. The championships will be held Saturday and Sunday at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

But the Thoroughbreds of Skidmore (NY) have crashed the final-four party for only the second time in school history, and coach Beth Hallenbecks club seems more than capable of holding their own with the elite.

Definitely,” said forward Christine Kemp, her teams leading scorer with 28 goals and 78 points. Were a great team and those teams havent seen us yet. And I think they should probably be concerned about us.”

Indeed they should. The Thoroughbreds (20-1) have reeled off 19 consecutive victories since dropping their second game of the season to SUNY Cortland. Most of Skidmores games havent been close - the Thoroughbreds have outscored their opponents 99-20.

Skidmore meets Bowdoin (18-1) in the second semifinal Saturday at 2 p.m., with Messiah (18-2) facing Ursinus (20-1) at 11 a.m. The winners square off at 1 p.m. Sunday for the title.

We knew we wanted to get to the final four and we knew we were good enough,” said Kemp, a two-time All-American. Were going to be able to hang with these teams and hopefully beat them.”

Hallenbeck looks at the Thoroughbreds first appearance in the final four since 2001 a little more philosophically.

When you get to this level, all the games are extremely competitive,” she said, and the teams are terrific. So you have to be ready to perform at any given day. It certainly helps if youve had experience and youve been there before.

But I think this is an opportunity for us, and we look forward to the challenge.”

Kemp is one of nine seniors on the Skidmore squad - seven of them start - and Hallenbeck believes that made a big difference in this years run to the final four.
Weve had great leadership from our seniors,” said Hallenbeck. Those girls have been in the [NCAA] tournament every year, and theyve continued to improve and grow as a group. This team has a lot of great chemistry and camaraderie. … I think thats allowed them to go just a little bit farther this time."

Kemp, who ranks fourth in D-III in points per game with 3.71. agrees with Hallenbeck.

Not only have we all played on the same field for four years, so we know each others style of play and what were going to do,” said Kemp. But were all great leaders and weve really brought out the best in the team as a whole.”

The Thoroughbreds did have a couple of close calls on their way to the championships, edging The College of New Jersey 3-2 in overtime in the second round and just getting past Eastern (Penn.) 4-3 in the third round.

They were very competitive games,” said Hallenbeck. We definitely had to step up and play a little bit tougher in those games. I was pleased to see that we could handle that pressure, and we look forward to the next challenge.”

That will certainly be the case against Bowdoin, which has won 10 consecutive NCAA tournament games dating back to its first NCAA title in 2007. The Polar Bears reached the final four on Ingrid Oelschlagers OT goal that eliminated Lebanon Valley 4-3.

The other semifinal is a rematch of last years national semifinal, won by Messiah 4-3. In addition, Messiah handed Ursinus its only loss this season, topping the Bears 4-2 in the season opener on Sept. 3. Since then, Ursinus has won 20 consecutive games.