Nov. 21, 2008

MEDFORD -- With an 18-1 overall record, including wins over teams ranked third, fifth, sixth and 12th in the final National Field Hockey Coaches Association national poll, the Tufts University field hockey team is where it belongs this weekend at the NCAA Div. III Championships at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. The Jumbos will play Messiah College in the semi-final round on Saturday (Nov. 22) at 11:00 a.m.

Coach Tina McDavitt's Jumbos are a relatively new entrant on the national scene. They earned the program's first NCAA berth in nine years last fall, winning a first-round game against New England College before losing in the second round at Salisbury. They stormed through their regular season this year, finishing 9-0 in the competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). Along the way, they defeated NCAA qualifying teams from Middlebury, Trinity and Bowdoin.

Despite losing the conference championship game to Bowdoin 1-0, the Jumbos received a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament and were selected as one of four regional hosts for the second and third rounds. After easily disposing of Springfield College 4-0, Tufts eliminated nine-time NCAA National Champion The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), 2-1, in the national quarterfinals. Senior tri-captain Brittany Holiday (Wellesley, MA) scored the game-winning goal on a penalty stroke with 1:49 remaining in the second half.

Tufts is the new kid on the block this weekend. Bowdoin is the defending NCAA Champion. Ursinus won the title in 2006. Messiah is a six-time NCAA runner-up looking for its first championship. However, the Jumbos feel good about their chances due to their success against some of the top programs in the country this fall.

"We are all excited and ready to compete at a high level," senior tri-captain Tess Jasinski said. "Our games against Springfield and TCNJ were huge wins and we were able to put forth a great team effort and play a full 70 minutes of field hockey. After so much success this season, we are confident and we know that we deserve to be in the semi-finals. While we are excited and happy with how far we have come this season, we are not satisfied. We want to return on Sunday as the NCAA DIII championship team."

Like Tufts' win over TCNJ, Messiah (17-1) is coming off a dramatic NCAA quarterfinal victory against Rowan, 2-1 in double overtime. Junior Liz Ziegler scored with just 31.1 seconds remaining in the second overtime period. Messiah reached the NCAA semi-finals for the 12th time overall, and for the fourth time in the last five years.

In the other NCAA semi-final game on Saturday, Bowdoin and Ursinus will meet at 2 p.m. The winners of both games will face off in the 2008 NCAA Division III Field Hockey National Championship, set for a 1 p.m. start Sunday.

Not many teams in the country have scored more than Tufts this season, but Messiah is one of them. The Falcons, who have scored 91 goals in 18 games, are ranked third in the national with 5.06 goals per game. Tufts is fifth with a 3.95 average. Tufts will face its biggest challenge of the season so far defensively. However, the Jumbo defense has been overshadowed by its offense and has its own high national ranking with the fifth-best goals against average in the country (0.83) as of November 16.

"The team's defensive success involves every player on the field," said senior tri-captain Marlee Kutcher (Chevy Chase, MD). "When we play as one, we are successful. Each line of our team plays defense, starting with the forwards. Our 3-2-3-2 system helps us to work together on defense, and to break out into an offensive force. Communication all over the field has also greatly contributed to our defensive success. Our greatest strength overall is that we work well together and do not depend on individuals to carry the team."

Messiah ranks ninth in the nation defensively with a 0.91 GAA. The Tufts offense, like its defense, gets contributions from all over the field. Eleven Jumbos have scored goals this fall, led by sophomore Tamara Brown (Annandale, VA) with a school-record 23, and 15 players have scored points.

The Falcons have five players with double-figures in goals, led by Nikki Bailey's 18.