NORFOLK, Va. – Perhaps this was inevitable.
Statistics and history say so, but the combatants in Sunday’s NCAA Division III national championship game are anything except familiar to each other.Bowdoin (18-3) and Salisbury (17-3) meet at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Old Dominion’s L.R. Hill Sports Complex in Norfolk, Va. Together they have won eight national titles – including seven of the past 10 – but Sunday’s game marks their first meeting
“Bowdoin is a great team,” Salisbury head coach Dawn Chamberlin said. “They’ve been there. They have a couple of national championships already.”
The Polar Bears have three Division III titles – 2007, ‘08 and ‘10. The Salisbury Sea Gulls have five titles – 1986, 2003, ‘05 and ‘09.
One school will see a streak broken Sunday. Neither has lost a national championship game. Another factor could be the playing surface. Old Dominion’s field is a water-based artificial surface, the same type as Bowdoin’s home surface; Salisbury’s home field is turf.
“Thursday’s practice is the first time we’ve played on this surface all year,” Chamberlin said. “It’s a lot tougher – faster than what we play on.”
Both teams played on an artificial surface during Friday’s national semifinals at the USA Field Hockey National Training Center in Virginia Beach. Both teams also received good tests, weathering early scores by their opponents and bouncing back.
Bowdoin defeated Christopher Newport 4-1 in the first semifinal while Salisbury beat Skidmore 3-2 in overtime in the second semifinal.
“I thought after the first 10 minutes our team settled in,” Bowdoin head coach Nicky Pearson said. “We made some adjustments and I was very happy that our team was able to score four goals.”
Salisbury had the tougher road to Sunday’s title game, needing freshman Yumi Kim’s overtime goal to advance.
“It was phenomenal,” Chamberlin said. “We fought back from behind the whole game so that’s just the character of this team, what’re they’re capable of doing. We’re a very young team. For them to be capable of that and to do it is just phenomenal.”
Bowdoin knows how to score. Collectively, the Polar Bears led Division III with a 3.36 scoring margin and an average of 3.11 assists per game prior to Friday’s national semifinals.
They also have some unfinished business. Bowdoin lost to eventual 2012 national champion Tufts during the third round of last year’s NCAA tournament, denying themselves a return to the national semifinals.
“After losing last year in the NCAA, I think our team was a little upset,” Bowdoin sophomore Rachel Kennedy said. “So that was what we wanted, was to make it to the NCAA championship.”
Kennedy and teammate Katie Riley each scored twice Friday against Christopher Newport. Riley, a senior, was a member of Bowdoin’s most recent national championship team and would like to bookend her career with another title.
“It would be amazing,” she said. “I think just because we won one before, it would be a great experience.”
Salisbury’s Chamberlin, whose roster includes nine freshmen, was pleased by her squad’s response to Friday’s national semifinal adversity.
“They know they have to get the jitters out quick,” she said. “They also know the win here boosted their confidence and they know they can play and hang. To come back when we’re scored upon, they did not give up.”
The Sea Gulls counter Bowdoin statistically with some stellar defensive numbers – first nationally with a 0.62 goals-against average and a .872 save percentage, and second with a .53 shutouts per game. They won their 17th Capital Athletic Conference title earlier this season.
“This is what we worked for all year long,” Chamberlin said. “We had two goals. One was to win a conference championship, which we did, and two was an opportunity to play for a national championship.”