KSC
Watson

KEENE, N.H. -- Despite all the success Amy Watson has achieved during her 22 years overseeing Keene State, there was always one thing missing from her impressive coaching credentials -- a win in an NCAA tournament game.

Watson and the Owls can now wipe that off their to-do list after posting a 2-0 shutout victory against Endicott in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Wednesday. It was Keene State's first tournament win since 1983.

"It feels great," Watson said.  "We've come close before, but just haven't been able to finish. It's finally nice to move on to the next level."

The next level for Keene State is a second-round game against Bowdoin in Brunswick, Maine on Saturday. The Polar Bears (17-0), who received a first-round bye, are the top-ranked team in Division III and defending national champs.

Keene State, which set a program record for wins (20-4) and stretched its winning streak to eight games, advanced to the second round after playing a typical Keene State game against the Gulls, who were making their first NCAA appearance. After getting the early jitters out of the system, the Owls maintained pressure throughout the first half. 

"The first 15 minutes we were all over the place," Watson said. "Once I did some subbing and players were able to come out and go back in they settled down."

After misfiring on a couple of corner opportunities, the Owls finally got on the board when senior Elizabeth Coffin scored on a quick one-timer from the right side of the net at the 13:56 mark.

"I'm not usually on the right side," said Coffin, who was named the Little East Conference offensive player of the year earlier in the day. "I didn't mean to shoot because I was at such a bad angle, but it went through the goalies feet and into the net. It felt awesome to get a goal in an NCAA game."

It was Coffin's team-leading 23rd goal of the season.

Keene State's second goal with 7:27 to play in the half also came off a corner play. Standing just to the right of the Gulls' goal, senior Jackie Benson took a pass from senior Alyce Ferenc and fired the ball past Endicott junior goalie Taylor Teixeira into the far corner of the net. 

"There were a lot of players in front and Alyce did a nice job getting me the ball," Benson said about her fourth goal of the season.

The Owls continued to control play the rest of the half, building up a wide 14-0 advantage in shots and a 7-1 lead in corner opportunities.

Not having much to cheer about in the first half, Endicott fans, who made the trip up to Keene, saw their team come alive early in the second half.  Freshman Kathryn Walker, just missed connecting on a crossing ball and junior Cassie DeSimone had a shot that went wide of the KSC net later in the half.

The Owls had a couple of chances to get a third goal. Racing down the near sideline, junior Kalin Billert sent a ball in front that Benson was unable to handle. A few minutes later, Ferenc's bouncing shot on a corner hit the post.

Strong play by a harassing Keene State midfield and dominating Owl defense never let the Gulls get back into the game. 

"Everyone was sprinting and we got to most of the balls before them," said senior Kerry Howe, who was named the LEC defensive player of the year on Wednesday. "We never let them get set offensively." 

"Once we started playing our game they couldn't get anything going," senior Aislynn Sherry said.  "It's our turf and we controlled the game."  

The recipient of Keene State's shutdown defense, freshman goalie Caitlin Davino- Draper, named the LEC rookie of the year, didn't record a save in the game. Meanwhile Teixeria was kept busy throughout the game, stopping 10 Owl shots.

Keene State, making its first trip to the tournament since 2008, had lost all six of its previous first-round NCAA games, including home contests against Maine Farmington (2003) and Wellesley College (2006). 

"Coach (Watson) really deserves this win," Benson said.  "She's been here a long time, so getting to the second-round means a lot to her and the team."

"This team has accomplished so much this season," Howe said.  "I'm just so glad to be a part of this team and experiencing a NCAA win for the first time."