Field hockey enters NCAA tournament after 2-1 play-in game victory
The AU field hockey team squeaked into the NCAA tournament Wednesday with a 2-1 play-in game win over Kent State University.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, Kent State, from the MAC conference, showed American a completely different style of play. Featuring four defensive players in the back instead of the three AU was used to facing, Kent State was able to successfully parry the Eagle attack for most of the game.
“We were doing a different press and trying to intercept a little more,” senior Kirstin Gebhart said.
The Eagles offense is used to scoring early. But they struggled in the first half to put together successful passes. With no penalty corners given up by the Golden Flashes defense, the Eagles had to continue to regroup after being shut down by Kent State.
Adding to team frustrations, American committed more fouls than normal. They struggled to adapt to the new style of play from the Golden Flashes.
The first break in the Kent State defense came in the 14th minute when a shot from senior Anne van Erp was blocked away by the opposing goalkeeper, Caroline Suitch, and volleyed back to the right side of the net by freshman Lotte van de Mierop.
Play continued back and forth for the next 14 minutes until junior Melissa Casale put the Eagles up 2-0. With the lead, American went into halftime knowing that its defense needed to be lights-out and its offense needed to click into rhythm again.
“We had to pull together in a strong defensive structure instead of the attacking mindset,” Gebhart said. “Everyone had a lot stronger tackles than we have in previous games, so we need to continue that.”
Coming out in the second half looking almost flat-footed, AU struggled to control the ball as Kent State continued to apply pressure and just three minutes in, Golden Flashes’ Amy Wimsatt deflected a Rachel Miller shot into the back of the net, drawing Kent State back to within one.
“We gave up some shots that were too open,” head coach Steve Jennings said. “But given that the last scouting report we could get on them was from early October, we had to play things by ear. To their credit, they put together some quality shots.”
AU continued to struggle controlling the ball and keeping the opposing attack out of its half of the field. With the shot count ending in favor of AU, 9-6, the Eagles played their closest game since before the Patriot League Championships.
The Eagles will now be moving on to the first round of the NCAA tournament, where they hope to secure a second-seed for the round of sixteen. With the season on the line, American will need to return to top form for the tournament to continue its hopes of making it to the Final Four.
“The team’s objective has been to have a deep postseason run and it all starts Saturday,” Jennings said. “We’d love to have a rematch at Maryland at the Final Four. That’d be fantastic.”