Rowan field hockey went into the 2022 NCAA Division III Final Four with a 21-1 record, a No. 3 national ranking and home-field advantage. But that still wasn’t enough to get past defending national champions and familiar foe Middlebury College.
On Friday, Nov. 18, the Profs fell to Middlebury in the tournament’s semifinals for the third time in five years 4-0. In a similar result as the prior two meetings, Rowan gave up four goals which allowed the Panthers to move on to the championship game.
The Panthers got going right away, with junior Audrey Lazar scoring the first goal of her hat trick only four minutes into the game. Out of Middlebury’s 12 shots on goal throughout the day, Lazar had six, the same amount Rowan recorded as a whole.
“We definitely expected a lot of shots, especially in a playoff game. I do think Middlebury came out fast,” said Abby Hainsworth, Rowan’s senior goalie. “Unfortunately they did slip two past us in the first quarter that set the stage for the rest of the game.”
That second goal in the first quarter once again came off the stick of Lazar, which gave the Panthers a two-goal lead 15 minutes into the game. Middlebury’s speed and ability to create breakaways gave them the clear advantage in the first half.
“It was what we were expecting from them, typical Middlebury team as far as their breakout speed and I knew that our turf plays fast and they weren’t going to have any issue adjusting to the turf,” Head Coach Michelle Andre said. “It took a little bit to find our legs, basically how the game was going to go. We’re used to doing that to other teams and a team did it to us.”
Going into halftime, Rowan had only got off three shots compared to Middlebury’s nine, and their best offensive opportunity came from a lone penalty corner in the first quarter. The leaders of the team led their mid-game huddle knowing adjustments needed to be made if they wanted a fighting chance of staying in this matchup.
“The big thing, just saying ‘hey it just takes one to slip in and it’s a game’ and you could feel that, everyone was like ‘let’s go’ and that showed immediately getting a corner when the third quarter started,” Captain Kristiina Castagnola said. “So I think that momentum really helped us, obviously wasn’t able to get one through the net, but you could see the improvement, the pickup from everyone.”
While the second half’s box score was no different from the first, as Middlebury put two goals on the board with Rowan drawing a blank, there were still adjustments from the Profs that made for a more competitive 30 minutes.
“I thought we made some really good adjustments, moving Bridget [Guinan] up to the forward line to give us an extra offensive push,” Coach Andre said. “But we were on our heels to start out with and I think that we had trouble getting going.”
Rowan’s offense put up more shots in the second half, specifically in the fourth quarter where they focused on Middlebury’s senior goalie Grace Harlan to double her three saves. Harlan remained unfazed, not allowing any of the Profs’ attempts to get by her.
“First and foremost she’s a tall girl, which is awesome, she’s really mobile, really sees the ball well. An initial shot was never going to be the one to go in for her, it’s always going to be the rebound and we had a few opportunities and honestly, some were just missed on the post,” Castagnola said. “With that said, their defense was awesome too, they just worked well as a unit.”
The Profs may have had improvements and adjustments in the second half, but overall Middlebury’s talent as a unit was just too much for Rowan to overcome. Coach Andre knew their opponent’s style of play was hard to beat but was still proud of the effort her team put out on the field.
“It was hard to break through a wall of four that as soon as they doubled the ball and we got past these two, something came and slid in behind them,” Coach Andre said. “So I thought we did a good job of actually generating good shots, executing our corners, it was just a game of inches on some of them.”
As for the season overall, the team’s ability to make improvements and adjustments, even if it didn’t come with the result they wanted, are what the Profs really valued in the end.
“I think that’s what I’m most prideful in, because it shows how much this team has grown over the years, especially with my senior class, just how much we demand from everyone,” Castagnola said. “Just being able to really understand where the improvements need to be and making adjustments. Michelle [Coach Andre] said it all season, being able to make adjustments, it really has been such a positive thing for us and I’m pretty proud of them.”
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