Keene State Earns 1st NCAA Tournament Victory
KEENE, N.H. - Despite all the success Amy
Watson has achieved during her 22 years overseeing Keene State
College's field hockey program, there was always one thing missing
from her impressive coaching credentials – a win in an NCAA
Watson and the Owls can now wipe that off their to-do list after posting a 2-0 shutout victory over Endicott College in a first-round NCAA Division III Tournament game played at Owl Athletic Complex on Wednesday. "It feels great," said Watson. "We've come close before, but just haven't been able to finish. It's finally nice to move on to the next level."
The next level for Keene State is a second-round game against Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine on Saturday (11 a.m.). The Polar Bears (17-0), who received a first-round bye, are the top-ranked team in Division III and defending national champs.
Keene State, which set a program record for wins (20-4) and stretched its winning streak to eight games, advanced to the second-round after playing a typical Keene State game against the Gulls, who were making their first NCAA appearance. After getting the early jitters out of the system, the Owls maintained pressure throughout the first half. "The first 15 minutes we were all over the place," said Watson. "Once I did some subbing and players were able to come out and go back in they settled down."
After misfiring on a couple of corner opportunities, the Owls finally got on the board when senior Elizabeth Coffin (Sugar Hill, N.H.) scored on a quick one-timer from the right side of the net at the 13:56 mark. "I'm not usually on the right side, said Coffin, who was named the Little East Conference offensive player of the year earlier in the day. "I didn't mean to shoot because I was at such a bad angle, but it went through the goalies feet and into the net." It felt awesome to get a goal in an NCAA game."
It was Coffin's team-leading 23rd goal of the season.
Keene State's second goal with 7:27 to play in the half also came off a corner play. Standing just to the right of the Gulls' goal, senior Jackie Benson (Hampstead, N.H) took a pass from senior Alyce Ferenc (Rumney, N.H.) and fired the ball past Endicott junior goalie Taylor Teixeira (Exeter, N.H.) into the far corner of the net. "There were a lot of players in front and Alyce did a nice job getting me the ball," said Benson about her fourth goal of the season.
The Owls continued to control play the rest of the half, building up a wide 14-0 advantage in shots and a 7-1 lead in corner opportunities.
Not having much to cheer about in the first half, Endicott fans, who made the trip up to Keene, saw their team come alive early in the second half. Freshman Kathryn Walker (Middlebury, Conn.), just missed connecting on a crossing ball and junior Cassie DeSimone (Reading, Mass.) had a shot that went wide of the KSC net later in the half.
The Owls had a couple of chances to get a third goal. Racing down the near sideline, junior Kalin Billert (Center Conway, N.H.) sent a ball in front that Benson was unable to handle. A few minutes later, Ferenc's bouncing shot on a corner hit the post.
Strong play by a harassing Keene State midfield and dominating Owl defense never let the Gulls get back into the game. "Everyone was sprinting and we got to most of the balls before them," said senior Kerry Howe (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.), who was named the LEC defensive player of the year on Wednesday. "We never let them get set offensively."
"Once we started playing our game they couldn't get anything going," said senior Aislynn Sherry (Rehoboth, Mass.). It's our turf and we controlled the game."
The recipient of Keene State's shutdown defense, freshman goalie Caitlin Davino- Draper, named the LEC rookie of the year, didn't record a save in the game. Meanwhile Teixeria was kept busy throughout the game, stopping 10 Owl shots.
It was the first meeting between the two teams since the 2004 season.
Keene State, making its first trip to the tournament since 2008, had lost all six of its previous
first-round Division III NCAA games, including home contests against Maine Farmington (2003) and Wellesley College (2006). "Coach (Watson) really deserves this win," said Benson. "She's been here a long time, so getting to the second-round means a lot to her and the team."
"This team has accomplished so much this season," said Howe. "I'm just so glad to be a part of this team and experiencing a NCAA win for the first time."
Theresa Hunnewell, mother of Keene State sophomore back Justine Hunnewell (Lebanon, Mass.), was at the game to watch her daughter play in the NCAA game. Theresa, a 1984 KSC grad, was a member of the last KSC field hockey team to win an NCAA game. A Division II program at the time, the 1983 Owls defeated Bentley (1-0) before falling to Bloomsburg in the semifinals.
Moving from the past to the present, Keene State will now get set to play the mighty Polar Bears on Saturday. "Now we go up to Bowdoin and play the best team in the country," said Watson. If you go to the nationals, you get a chance to play the top teams. So bring it one. We'll do the best that we can."