VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The band played, fans cheered as loudly as the tubas and drums, but the hometown ruckus couldn’t pull Christopher Newport past Bowdoin in Friday’s first NCAA national semifinal.
The Polar Bears (17-3) beat the fourth-seeded Captains (21-2) from nearby Newport News 4-1, advancing to Sunday’s national championship game. Bowdoin will meet Salisbury, which defeated Skidmore 3-2 in overtime of Friday’s second semifinal.
“Obviously I thought it was a very well-played game,” Bowdoin head coach Nicky Pearson said. “Christopher Newport, they’re an exceptional team. I was happy with the outcome.”
Sunday’s championship game will be played at Old Dominion’s L.R. Hill Sports Complex in Norfolk, at 10:30 a.m.
“Hats off to Bowdoin,” CNU head coach Carrie Moura said. “They executed really well.”
CNU was making its first national semifinal appearance and the Captains’ Lauren Cheatham opened scoring with a goal at 4:16.
For a team that entered the game with the NCAA's third-best goals-against average at .76 and 11 shutouts on the season, it would nomally be enough. But Bowdoin quickly found a way to break through the stingy defense.
Bowdoin’s Katie Riley answered 15 seconds later, squelching CNU’s momentum. She added another goal at 30:21. Teammate Rachel Kennedy produced Bowdoin’s final two points, scoring at 46:31 and 68:09.
CNU’s Marcy Hoath said the Captains lost focus and their “red-zone” philosophy of bearing down even harder to press an opponent after scoring went out the window after Cheatham’s first goal.
“We came out with a lot of energy in the beginning and it paid off it in the beginning,” Hoath said. “We probably let our emotions get to us.”
CNU’s status as first-timers in the semifinals and Bowdoin’s as returnees – the Polar Bears are in their seventh semifinal in nine years and won the 2010 title – wasn’t a factor to Moura.
“I don’t think it was the over-excitement of being in the final four,” she said. “They have three players on their roster who have played in a championship final so I don’t think there was any advantage in that.”
The surface at the USA Field Hockey National Training Center was a factor. CNU uses a turf field while Bowdoin plays on the same type of water-based artificial surface used at Friday’s venue. The artificial surface produces faster play.
“We just didn’t have a lot of room to really move with the ball,” CNU’s Belle Tunstall said.
“Just tight possessions coming into the circle, tight release getting in to the cage,” Hoath said. “We have way more time to react to that on our surface.”
Bowdoin’s Pearson said her team stuck to its mantra of playing well no matter the surface. Giving up the first goal could have thrown off the team as well, but Riley tied the game to help stabilize the Polar Bears.
“It was incredibly important,” Pearson said of scoring quickly after CNU’s initial goal. “I think it was an excellent response by our team. Anytime [your opponent] scores a goal and you come back like that I think it really settles your team. I was just really pleased with that.”
The loss brought to a close the end of Christopher Newport's 10 seniors. Besides reaching the national semifinals, they had all gone on a trip to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London to see world-class field hockey competition.
“We had our hearts set on one game at a time and just getting to the national championship,” Tunstall said. “So it’s definitely going to take some time for it to settle in. and it’s really heartbreaking.”
Moura lauded the support of CNU’s administration and athletic department, noting 700 fans attending the Captains’ final home game.
“It’s just been awesome how they’ve taken the interest,” she said. “The area is rich with field hockey, so it’s nice to have people around who are familiar with the sport.”