COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Two days before Connecticut played Albany for a spot in the NCAA field hockey national championship game, UConn head coach Nancy Stevens spoke proudly about how her team plays.
She said that her team attacks and pushes people forward. “We don’t play defensively,” she said. “We don’t win 1-0.”It turns out that Stevens, who has coached UConn for 25 years, was dead wrong. At least for one day.
Despite being outshot 10-5, UConn defeated Albany 1-0 on Friday to advance to Sunday’s championship game against Syracuse.
“At one point we were thinking we weren’t playing that great,” Stevens said. “And there’s a reason for it. Albany was outstanding.”
UConn averages nearly 18 shots per game and only surrenders six. That offensive-minded style led the Huskies to a No. 3 national ranking and an 18-3 record. They had scored 55 goals in their past 10 games, and had won nine of them by at least three tallies.
“A championship team can find ways to win,” Stevens said. “Even when you’re not you’re best.”
And that’s exactly what the Huskies are.
UConn, the defending national champions, will be playing for its fourth national championship in school history on Sunday. This is its 26th appearance in the NCAA tournament and 18th appearance in the past 19 seasons.
“Last year was an incredible experience,” UConn’s Megan Palmisano said. “Coming into this year, we were all really hopeful that we could come together as a team and come back to the national championship. To get to play on Sunday again is incredible. I think we’re all really excited for it and we’re up for the challenge.”
The Huskies now know they can rely on their back end to win a game if they don’t have a big lead.
“In the middle of the season, we sat down and said that if we have any hopes of playing well in the NCAA tournament, you can’t give up three goals,” Stevens said. “We worked really diligently on shoring up our defense."Freshman goalie Nina Klein had six saves in Friday’s win.
“Nina was great in goal.” UConn’s Chrissy Davidson said “She really stepped up and played big.”
“It’s not gymnastics or figure skating, and that’s what I had to emphasize,” Stevens said. “We weren’t going to get style points today. We had to emphasize at halftime that field hockey is not a game of perfect.”
But going into the game, did she think they would win if the Huskies were outshot by five and didn’t have a penalty corner?
“What I would first ask is, do we get any goals?” Stevens replied.
On Friday, one was all that was needed.