The Mack Report

Merrimack No. 2 Moment: Field Hockey Returns to Final Four

Field Hockey Gameday

In collegiate athletics, there is perhaps no more difficult of tasks than repeating – regardless of the accomplishment.

Whether to go consecutive seasons as a league or conference champion, or to go back-to-back years advancing to a certain point in the postseason, be it the national quarterfinals, Final Four or national championship game, with the landscape of collegiate athletics – regardless the sport – constantly evolving, from the coaching, the conditioning and the skillset of the student-athletes themselves, no team, regardless the level, is guaranteed to repeat anything from a year ago just from sheer odds alone.

After a historic 2011 season that saw the Merrimack field hockey team both set a school record for wins (17-3), earn its first-ever Northeast-10 Conference regular season crown, earn a berth in the NE-10 Finals and advance – for the first time in school history – to the NCAA Final Four, it would be difficult to set the bar much higher than that entering the fall of 2012.

And based on the general scope of parity in all collegiate sports and the difficulty of both Merrimack’s schedule and the rest of the NE-10 field, all of that combined made the task at hand – defending their regular season crown and returning to the league finals and national semifinals – that much more difficult.

But equipped with arguably one of the most talented group of student-athletes under the tenure of head coach Anne Rounce, one that boasted several All-Americans and the NE-10 Player and Goalkeeper of the Year, Merrimack met those challenges head-on and overcame all of those odds, and more.

After returning to both the NE-10 Finals and the NCAA Final Four thanks to the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, the field hockey team’s historic 2012 campaign has been recognized as the No. 2 moment from 2012-13.

Using a nine-game winning streak that spanned nearly a month, one that featured a season-defining road victory at one of the best teams in the nation in UMass Lowell, the Warriors rode that late-season surge to seal their second consecutive NE-10 regular season title, earning the top seed in the six-team NE-10 Championship.

By virtue of its No. 1 seed, Merrimack earned the right to host the NE-10 Semifinals and Championship from Oct. 27-28. But to claim its first NE-10 tournament title in program history, the Warriors would have to navigate through a field comprised of UMass Lowell, Bentley and Adelphi.

The Warriors’ opening act in their tournament run came against the Panthers in the Semifinals. Fourth-seeded Adelphi kept the nation’s top offense in check through most of the first half, but Merrimack exploded for three goals in the final five minutes of the frame, and that set the tone for an eventual 6-0 victory in in the Semifinals.

The following day, archrival UMass Lowell – who advanced to the title game with a one-goal win over Bentley a day earlier – was the only thing that stood between Merrimack and an NE-10 crown.

The matchup represented one of the top offenses in the country in the form of the Warriors – who boasted a forward unit comprised of eventual All-Americans Candace WaldieApril Daugherty, Jen Otis and Jessica Otis, against a Lowell side that represented one of the top defensive units in the nation.

After the River Hawks struck for the game’s first goal in the seventh minute, Merrimack was forced to battle from behind the rest of the way. The Warriors nearly tallied the tying marker on a few occasions, but in the end, it was UMass Lowell that walked away with a 1-0 victory in the Finals.

It could have been easy for any other team to walk away discouraged after such a tough loss, but despite missing that long-coveted league crown, Merrimack turned its sights to an even bigger tournament – the NCAAs.

Earning an at-large bid that brought them back to the Big Dance for the second time in as many seasons, the Warriors would need a victory in the six-team tournament’s First Round to realize their season-long goal in returning to the NCAA Final Four.

Standing in the team’s way was nearby rival Bentley, a team that Merrimack posted a pair of victories against in the regular season, including an overtime win at home in early October.

Despite that, the Falcons did not back down, grabbing a 1-0 lead 20 minutes into the match. But Merrimack would not be denied, as Daugherty scored a dramatic goal in the 29th minute to tie it up at a goal apiece.

Following intermission, Merrimack tilted the momentum back in its favor thanks to Waldie, who registered her team-leading 24th goal of the season 10 minutes into the second half to give the Navy and Gold a lead they would never relinquish.

Thirteen minutes later, it was Jessica Otis who provided the game-winner, striking in the 58th minute of regulation to put Merrimack up by two. Bentley made it interesting down the stretch with a late marker, but Merrimack and All-American goalkeeper Kerri Bergquist held on to punch the Warriors’ return ticket to the NCAA Final Four with the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, 3-2, over the Falcons.

Merrimack’s historic season, though, came to an end against UMass Lowell, for the second season in a row, in the national semifinals. Playing on the River Hawks’ home turf, Merrimack’s offense had its chances, but Lowell’s defense again proved to be the deciding factor, powering the River Hawks to a 2-0 victory over the Warriors.

But despite just missing out on a chance to play in the National Championship, Merrimack left plenty to be proud of on the turf this fall. And considering that all of the team’s success came after another equally incredible season the previous fall, the Warriors’ 2012 campaign will go down as another one for the record books.

This is the ninth of 10 Merrimack Top Moments of 2012-13 Installments.

10. Women’s Crew Wins NE-10 Cup V4 Title
9. Football’s Historic Victory Vaults Voegeli to NFL 
8. Men’s Hockey Team’s Dramatic OT Win over BC
7. Men’s Lacrosse Stuns Top-Ranked Le Moyne
6. Women’s Golf Claims First-Ever ECAC Title
5. Women’s Basketball’s Postseason Run to NE-10 Semis
4. Men’s Tennis Repeats as NE-10 Champions
3. Baseball Caps Historic Season with Run to NE-10 Finals
2. Field Hockey Returns to NCAA Final Four
1. Friday, July 12