Courtesy Tufts Sports Information
COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. - The Tufts University field hockey team will play for the 2008 NCAA National Championship on Sunday after defeating Messiah College, 5-2, in the NCAA semifinals on Saturday at Ursinus College. Tufts (19-1) will face the winner of the Bowdoin-Ursinus semifinal for the national title on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
Sophomore Tamara Brown (Annandale, Va.) scored three goals in the second half to help the Jumbos break a 2-2 halftime tie and defeat the Falcons. Tomorrow's game will be just the second NCAA Championship appearance for a Tufts team, following women's soccer from 2000. The five goals scored by the Jumbos against Messiah are the most versus the Falcons since October 1, 2005.
Any nerves Tufts may have felt for its first appearance in the NCAA Championship semifinals were not evident. They scored early on a penalty corner attempt just 1:22 into the game. After the insertion by senior tri-captain Brittany Holiday (Wellesley, Mass.), junior Margi Scholtes (Grosse Pointe, Mich.) sent a rocket toward the goal that was tipped in by junior Michelle Kelly (Downingtown, Pa.) for a 1-0 lead.
Messiah started to get into its game halfway into the period, with Nikki Bailey tipping a shot that Jumbo first-year goalkeeper Marianna Zak (Concord, Mass.) stopped. Not long after on a penalty corner, Bailey scored off an assist from Elizabeth Ziegler and the game was knotted at 1-1 19:19 into the first half.
Showing the team's depth up front, Tufts coach Tina McDavitt substituted with sophomore Melissa Burke (Walpole, Mass.) and first-year Lindsay Griffith (Wilmington, Del.), and it paid off. Griffith took a pass from junior Amanda Russo (Garden City, N.Y.) in front of the cage and converted on a bang-bang play to put Tufts up 2-1 with less than three minutes remaining until halftime. However, the Falcons answered quickly as Katie
Love blasted in a goal from the top of the circle just 48 seconds later to make it 2-2. At the half, the teams were even in shots at 9-9 and Tufts had a 6-5 edge in corners. Messiah seemed to use the momentum of its second goal early in the second half. The Falcons earned three early corners and Zak had to make a nice foot save off a Ziegler shot.
However, Tufts would own a 10-minute span early in the second half to take over the game. Russo made a great rush to the goal, joined by Brown, whose goal on a rebound with 24:38 on the clock gave Tufts a 3-2 lead. Showing composure and skill in front of the net, which has helped her score 26 goals now this season, Brown tallied two more very similar goals at 18:08, assisted by junior Margi Scholtes (Grosse Pointe, Mich.), and unassisted with 16:44 remaining to give Tufts a commanding 5-2 advantage. The hat trick, scored in a 7:54 time span, was Brown's third of the season.
Messiah would apply some pressure during the final 15 minutes, but Zak was able to kick out one shot and the Jumbo defense protected the goal to send the squad to the national championship game. Zak finished with seven saves, while Messiah's Ashley Mowery had five. The Jumbos finished with an 18-16 advantage in shots, while Messiah was up 14-9 in penalty corners.
"We were poised and persistent," said Tufts coach Tina McDavitt. "Lindsay Griffith's goal, to get the second goal for us, and then Tamara in front of the cage each time, taking an extra second to see the angle and pop it by their goalie. We just played really well in the biggest game that we've played in so far."
Messiah is a six-time NCAA runner-up that was looking for its first championship. Bowdoin is the defending NCAA Champion. Ursinus won the title in 2006. Tufts will now look to complete a journey that started with the team's off-season trip to South Africa last May, continued with a perfect NESCAC regular season, and now includes wins over traditional NCAA powers The College of New Jersey (in last week's quarterfinals) and Messiah.
"We took it one game at a time during the season, but when we made the NCAA's, we talked about winning the whole thing, because that's how you have to look at it," McDavitt said. "Making the semi-finals for the first time, we talked about not being satisfied. I think that today we showed we were more than just happy to be here."