NORFOLK, Va. – The Bowdoin Polar Bears triumphed in their kind of weather Sunday, winning the NCAA Division III title in polar conditions.
Playing before a crowd of 1,386, Bowdoin (18-3) defeated Salisbury 1-0 at Old Dominion’s L.R. Hill Sports Complex. Frigid temperatures and blustery wind belied the sunshine overhead, but, when you’re a Polar Bear from Brunswick, Me., it felt just right.“It was a lot warmer than our practices have been in Brunswick the last two weeks,” said senior Katie Riley, who assisted on teammate Rachel Kennedy’s game-winning goal.
It got a lot warmer for Bowdoin after time expired. The Polar Bears claimed their fourth title in seven years, adding this latest championship to those won in 2007, '08 and '10. Head coach Nicky Pearson, in her 18th season, now ranks second among Division III coaches with four NCAA titles.
“I’m just so proud of my team,” Pearson said. “It was a privilege to stand on the sideline today and watch how they performed. And this just capped off an unbelievable season.”
Sunday marked a bittersweet end for Salisbury (17-4).
“Certainly we’re disappointed,” head coach Dawn Chamberlin said. “It was a well-played, hard-fought game between two great programs. One program had to fall and unfortunately, it was us today.”
Although Bowdoin and Salisbury arrived at ODU having won eight national titles – including seven of the past 10 – Sunday’s final marked their first meeting.
Play reflected the heavyweight clash; halftime arrived with a scoreless tie. But, the first few minutes of the second half ultimately decided the day.
Bowdoin’s Kennedy scored at 36:51, on a ball corralled in front of Salisbury’s goal and fired toward the right post. Two minutes later, the Sea Gulls thought they had answered on a penalty corner. Salisbury’s Samantha Johnson started the play while Summer Washburn took the shot and appeared to score. But officials ruled the ball deflected off a teammate into the goal, which negated the score.
“Going into this game, we knew we had limited chances and we knew that when those came up, we needed to take them,” Pearson said. “We did create some chances, but they had some great defensive saves.”
Statistically, Sunday’s Division III final was a record-breaker. Salisbury recorded only two shots on goal, the fewest number of shots taken by a team in a national semifinal or final. Bowdoin had 14 shots on goal.
Chamberlin said ODU’s water-based artificial surface – the same type used by Bowdoin on its home field – bedeviled the Sea Gulls. She added that the Sea Gulls needed the first half of Thursday’s semifinal victory against Skidmore to adjust to a similar surface at the USA Field Hockey National Training Center in Virginia Beach.
“We just didn’t play low enough and keep our stick on the ball well enough and that was the difference,” Chamberlin said.
But, the Bowdoin Polar Bears excelled on the familiar surface, which Pearson sensed from the start.
“I just felt like from the first whistle that our team was just ready to go,” she said. “We had a lot of energy and we had a good start. We played really well in the first half, and that was a great push that we needed to get us that momentum in the second half, and we were able to keep that pressure on.”
One reason for her team’s focus was last season’s agonizing loss to eventual champion Tufts in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Senior Olivia King – selected as the Division III tournament most outstanding player this year – said the year-old disappointment was a motivator, especially to fellow seniors who had won the 2010 championship as freshmen.
“Having this opportunity and being able to say that we’re national champions is just an unbelievable experience,” she said.
“It honestly feels surreal,” Riley said. “Our team has worked so hard all season. Our goal all season to win a championship and I can’t believe that we won.”