A Ticket to Virginia: Field hockey advances to the Final Four

Posted by Gabe Weintraub

Annie Rosencrans's last-minute, gamewinning goal against Eastern University on Sunday, Nov. 14 put an exclamation point on a record-breaking weekend for Skidmore field hockey, extending the team's school-best 19-game winning streak and lifting them to the NCAA Final Four.

This Saturday the Thoroughbreds travel to Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., where they will take on No. 4 Bowdoin College in a national semifinal. Should they emerge victorious, the team will face the winner of No. 1 Messiah College vs. No. 2 Ursinus College, and fight for the right to call themselves national champions.

Skidmore finished the regular season ranked No. 5 after earning their third consecutive Liberty League title. They have not lost since Sept. 3, falling 3-0 at SUNY Cortland. They have since gone on to win 19 consecutive games, earning a 20-1 record and setting a school record for victories in a season.

"I think the fact that we did lose early was really key for us in a lot of ways," Head Coach Beth Hallenbeck said. "We came into the season knowing we were very strong, but losing early really made us reexamine what we needed to do differently, how we needed to step up our game and be ready for future opponents and, obviously, it seems to have worked."

"Our goal from the preseason was to get to the Final Four and to win an NCAA championship," said senior co-captain Christine Kemp, "but I don't know that we all believed in it right away. After a couple games something clicked and we all stepped our game up and our confidence and really started believing that we could get where we are today."

Kemp is one of nine seniors on the team, a considerable number for a Division III college team, according to Hallenbeck. "I think they've been a huge part of it," she said. "There's a lot of experience on the team and there's a lot of urgency in this group. This is the final chance."

As Liberty League champions, Skidmore has qualified for the NCAA tournament for the last three years. 2008 saw a young Thoroughbred team lose in the first round to Eastern, and last year the team's championship hopes were dashed by a loss to Tufts University in the quarterfinals. Skidmore last made it to the semifinals in 2001, the team's only Final Four appearance.

For seniors like Kemp, this weekend represents the final shot at the biggest prize of them all, a national title. "This is their legacy," Hallenbeck said, "they're going out in the best way possible."

In a season of team records, Kemp has set several of her own. A first half assist against Eastern on Sunday gave her the program record for assists in a single season, and she is the first player in school history to score 200 career points. Kemp has been named a First Team All-American in both of the last two seasons, and this year she has already been named to the All-Liberty League First Team and earned Liberty League Tournament MVP and offensive player of the year honors for the third time. Given a strong performance in the Final Four, Hallenbeck believes Kemp will be a serious contender for the national player of the year.

Kemp attributes her personal accomplishments to her teammates, saying "I wouldn't be anywhere without them. We all make each other play so well." Those teammates, and the other seniors in particular, have earned no shortage of individual honors themselves.

Seniors Liz Catinella, Lauren McCarthy, Claire Superak and Julia Sarni were all named to the Liberty League All-Tournament team. Catinella, McCarthy and Superak all received Liberty League First Team honors, along with junior Annie Rosencrans and first year Kelly Blackhurst. Blackhurst was rookie of the year, setting school rookie scoring records with 19 goals and 5 assists for 43 points. Catinella was defensive player of the year and became Skidmore's all-time leader in shutouts and wins. Hallenbeck was coach of the year.

"Contributions have come from so many different members of this team," Hallenbeck said, "so while there are certain people who we tend to rely on, it's always interesting to see who is going to step up every game and really offer up something important."

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the year, according to Hallenbeck, is that the team maintained its intensity for every single game. "In the past we've been able to get up for certain games," she said, "but there have been lulls, and maybe we'll lose a game that we shouldn't, but that never happened this year."

"It came down to heart this weekend," Kemp said. "We did not back down and had a ‘refuse to lose' mentality. If the other teams scored then we put on the pressure defensively, and offensively we always found a way to score right back."

Kemp had a dramatic game-winning goal in overtime against The College of New Jersey on Saturday in the second round of the tournament at Thoroughbred Field.

"I think the fact that we hosted the regionals last weekend was really in our favor because the crowd was tremendous," Hallenbeck said. "We had two extremely competitive games, and when that's the case it's really nice to have the support from the sideline."

"School spirit is key in any team's success," Kemp added. "The more they're into it, and the more energy they bring, the more we can get into it in return. At the end of the games we take a ‘victory lap' and slap all the fans' hands and their smiles, excitement and words of encouragement is one of the best feelings."

That home-field advantage will unfortunately be absent in Virginia, but fans can follow the action online with live scores and highlights at NCAA.com.

Even with the biggest games of the season yet to come, the attitude as the team heads to Virginia is one of jubilation. "It's honestly hard to describe," Kemp said. "I just look at my teammates and want to hug them forever. I'm so proud of everyone; everyone is so proud of each other."

Hallenbeck echoed that sentiment, saying "This is a really special group. Their chemistry and their camaraderie has made it really easy for me. They're a very cohesive group. They want to do well. They're talented but they work hard and I think that's the key to success. They recognize that nothing comes without hard work, and that's really paid off for them this season."

For the seniors, this weekend represents the culmination of all their work from the last four years. "There's an incredible amount of talent on this team, and I think the leadership that the seniors bring really ties all that together," Hallenbeck said. "They've improved steadily through their four years, and it's all possible for them now."

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