Fresh faces in DIII championship
TCNJ is only team of four remaining with title experience
There will be a new NCAA Division III Champion crowned this weekend at Motamed Field in Garden City, N.Y. The Gettysburg College Bullets ensured that this past weekend when they upset Salisbury, eliminating the reigning NCAA Champions from the tournament and advancing to this weekend’s NCAA Championship on the campus of Adelphi University.
Now, the Bullets, along with Bowdoin and Cortland, are hoping that there will be a brand new champion added to the ranks this weekend on Long Island.
The College of New Jersey is the only school competing this weekend at Motamed Field that has won an NCAA Division III Championship, having won 13 championships, including the first Division III Championship in 1985. With Salisbury and Trinity out of the running, the undefeated Lions enter the weekend as the favorite to walk away with their 14th championship. However, having upended the reigning NCAA Champions and the undefeated champions of the NESCAC, the Bullets and Polar Bears have shown themselves to be more than capable of a big-time upset, while the Red Dragons are ready to show that they’ve come a long way since their loss to the Lions on March 13.
Whatever happens, it’ll all go down on Saturday and Sunday in Long Island.
The College of New Jersey Lions
Record: 20-0 (5-0 NJAC)
Ranking: No. 1 in May 9 IWLCA Division III Poll
Top Scorers: Junior midfielder Leigh Mitchell (53g, 66a), senior midfielder Ali Jaeger (63g, 45a), junior midfielder Kathleen Notos (72g, 9a)
Top Goalkeeper: Senior Mary Waller (20-0-0, 3.76 goals-against average, .529 save percentage)
From a statistical perspective, the Lions bring the best players they’ve ever had to Garden City this weekend. In Jaeger, TCNJ brings its all-time leader in goals and total points, while Mitchell has captured the school’s assist record in just three seasons. However, what they don’t have is an NCAA Championship, and for a program that has more Division III titles than any other school, that’s a major gap on their résumé.
Head coach Sharon Pfluger’s Lions are the top defensive team in the nation, holding opponents to just 2.94 goals per game. Mary Waller leads the nation in both save percentage and goals-against average. The Lions aren’t quite the same force offensively, ranking 12th in the nation in scoring offense, but Mitchell, Jaeger and Kathleen Notos do enough damage for the Lions to win their games by an average of more than 12 goals per game.
Cortland Red Dragons
Record: 21-1 (8-0 SUNYAC)
Ranking: No. 4 in May 9 IWLCA Division III Poll
Top Scorers: Junior midfielder Lindsay Abbott (59g, 74a), sophomore midfielder Maria Di Fato (65g, 22a), freshman attacker Ashley Cook (50g, 25a)
Top Goalkeeper: Sophomore Ally Levy (19-0, 6.63 goals-against average, .517 save percentage)
The Red Dragons have just one blemish on their record in 2011: a 12-5 loss to TCNJ in Ewing on March 13. Since then, Cortland has torn through the SUNYAC, winning all its conference games by five or more goals, and picked up non-conference victories against teams like Roanoke, Washington & Lee and Hamilton. Ally Levy has taken control in the cage for the Red Dragons since stepping in for classmate Shauna Hutchinson 20 minutes into a game at Roanoke and backstopping Cortland to a victory. Both keepers have seen time for the Red Dragons, but Levy has been the goalie of record in 19 of the team’s 21 wins.
Offensively, Lindsay Abbott is the catalyst for Cortland, second only to TCNJ’s Leigh Mitchell in assists per game and points per game among this weekend’s competitors. Cortland had the national Freshman of the Year last season in Maria Di Fato, and has another strong candidate this season in Ashley Cook. A native of Commack, Cook will be at home on Long Island this weekend, and will look to help her teammates bring Cortland the first NCAA Championship in program history. To do that, however, they’ll need to get past Gettysburg.
Gettysburg College Bullets
Record: 17-4 (8-1 Centennial Conference)
Ranking: No. 7 in May 9 IWLCA Division III Poll
Top Scorers: Junior attacker Hannah Church (77g, 10a), sophomore attacker Lindsey Robinson (36g, 29a), senior attacker Marnie Commins (37g, 22a)
Top Goalkeeper: Junior Maddie Coleman (10-4, 7.48 goals-against average, .532 save percentage)
The Bullets had seen their last two postseason runs end at the hands of Salisbury, but Gettysburg broke through on Sunday at Sea Gull Stadium, dispatching the defending NCAA Champions and earning the right to pursue the first NCAA Championship in program history this weekend on Long Island. Gettysburg gave TCNJ its closest game of the season in an 8-7 loss on April 1, and would love an opportunity to avenge that loss. To do that, however, the Bullets need to get past Cortland, which has its own score to settle with the Lions.
Hannah Church comes to Garden City as the leading goal-scorer of the four teams in the Championship, the main producer for a team that averages 13.61 goals per game. Defensively, Maddie Coleman is the backbone of a defense that allows fewer goals than any team at this weekend’s championship other than TCNJ, holding opponents to just 6.44 goals per game.
Bowdoin Polar Bears
Record: 17-3 (7-2 NESCAC)
Ranking: No. 11 in May 9 IWLCA Division III Poll
Top Scorers: Sophomore attacker Carolyn Gorajek (46g, 14a), junior attacker Elizabeth Clegg (36g, 10a), junior midfielder Katie Stewart (34g, 6a)
Top Goalkeeper: Sophomore Tara Connolly (14-2, 6.89 goals-against average, .518 save percentage)
The Polar Bears aren’t the NESCAC team that everyone expected to see at Motamed Field, but Bowdoin upset undefeated Trinity in the NCAA quarterfinals to earn its first-ever trip to the championship weekend. Bowdoin will have the unenviable task of trying to take down unbeaten TCNJ, but having ended one undefeated season already by knocking off the Bantams, head coach Liz Grote’s team is ready to tangle with another.
Bowdoin brings one of the nation’s best defensive units to Garden City, giving up just 6.65 goals per game. In the quarterfinal win against Trinity, Tara Connolly made 10 saves to hold the Bantams to six goals, more than five goals below their season average. On offense, the Polar Bears are young, and average fewer goals per game than any of their rivals on Long Island. However, lately, the Polar Bears have been scoring all the goals they’ve needed.