May 19, 2011

Bowdoin Boasts Championship Credentials

by Mark Macyk |

Bowdoin defender Ingrid Oelschlager has won three NCAA championships in field hockey. The Polar Bears upset Trinity to advance to their first-ever final four in lacrosse. They'll meet unbeaten TCNJ in the NCAA semifinals Saturday.

In terms of championship experience, Bowdoin would appear to be the odd team out in this weekend's NCAA Division III women's lacrosse semifinals at Adelphi. The Polar Bears upset top-seeded Trinity, 9-6, on Sunday to advance to the first final four in program history.

Cortland has been there before, reaching the semifinals back in 2006. Gettysburg has played in five semifinals in the past six years. Historically, no one comes close to TCNJ, which boasts 11 NCAA titles.

But the Polar Bears know a thing or two (or three) about winning NCAA championships. Eight of their players won NCAA field hockey titles this fall. And no one will be able to match the championship pedigree of defender Ingrid Oelschlager, who comes in with three NCAA field hockey championships on her resume.

"She's certainly looking for a fourth," said Bowdoin coach Liz Grote.

Oelschlager anchors a defense that could help turn Bowdoin's first trip to the final four into its first title. The Polar Bears transitioned from man-to-man to zone this season, resulting in the seventh-stingiest defense in Division III. They not only handed Trinity its first loss on Sunday, but also held the Bantams to their lowest scoring output of the year. Sophomore Tara Connelly made 10 saves to back the defense's effort.

"Our defense was absolutely amazing," Grote said. "They played well together. Our goalkeeper came up with a couple of point-blank saves. That certainly gives your team confidence."

Also boosting the Polar Bears' confidence was that after the gauntlet-like NESCAC regular season, they got to warm up with a pair of non-league opponents. Bowdoin downed Babson 16-5 in the tournament opener and defeated Stevens 13-10 on Saturday. Trinity, meanwhile, endured another brutal NESCAC contest in the second round, needing overtime to eliminate Middlebury.

"It gave us a nice boost mentally," Grote said. "We're really proud of [the NESCAC getting five NCAA bids], but unfortunately three of us were in the same bracket. That's why it was great to get Babson and Stevens. Emotionally, it was really good for us."

Emotions shouldn't bother Bowdoin this weekend. Oelschlager and midfielder Katy Dissinger, who scored three goals against Trinity, are Bowdoin's only seniors, but the Polar Bears are experienced. They start seven juniors, including Liz Clegg, who is second on the team with 46 points. Connelly and attacker Carolyn Gorajek (team-high 60 points) lead an equally strong sophomore class.

Oelschlager and junior midfielder Katie Herter (20 goals, six assists) were both All-Americans in field hockey last fall, but Grote doesn't see a correlation beyond being good athletes and hard workers.

"They're so different," she said. "We have 15 kids on the team who play another sport. They're good athletes at a high academic institution. They're able to enjoy it all."

That multi-tasking will be necessary again this week, as Bowdoin tries to take down its second undefeated opponent in as many games against TCNJ.

To complicate matters, it's finals week at Bowdoin, and Grote said she expects to be short-handed at practices and will even have to proctor some exams on the bus ride down to Long Island.

"They're just trying to get through exams so they can focus on lacrosse," Grote said. "They've done it all season, but obviously it's a bit stressful."

Easing the stress of the first trip the semifinals will be that a third of the team has done it before, albeit in a different sport and season.

"They're excited," Grote said. "They want more. Having eight field hockey players who just won a championship relaxes people. The first time you go to a final four can be hectic. We're just gonna try to make it as easy as possible."

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