At one time this season, the Husson University field hockey team was 2-7, including a 6-0 loss to Bowdoin College.
But the Eagles have won seven straight and captured their first-ever North Atlantic Conference Tournament to earn a berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Husson, 9-7, will travel to play 11-4 Amherst College (Mass.) in a first-round game on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Gooding Field. The winner will advance to play Skidmore College (N.Y.) on Saturday at Tufts University (Mass.).
The Husson field hockey team is one of three Eagle teams to win a NAC title and earn a berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The men’s soccer team, 10-8-2 and unbeaten in its last seven games (6-0-1), will travel to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (N.Y.) to take on 14-2-1 NESCAC champion Williams College (Mass.) on Saturday at 11 a.m. and the 15-5 women’s soccer team, winner of five of its last six, will travel to Middlebury College (Vt.) to play the host school also on Saturday at 11 a.m. Middlebury College is 12-3-2.
First-year Husson University coach Katie Flaherty said her team is playing “its best hockey of the season” right now. Husson won the NAC title as the fourth seed.
“It finally clicked. We’re playing our possession game, using space well, passing well and finishing at the right time,” said Flaherty, a former three-time University of Maine captain and Winslow High School star.
“We lost a lot of our scorers from last year so we had to find people to fit into those positions and we had to learn a new type of field hockey so we wouldn’t run ourselves ragged,” said center back Jenika Kelley from Livermore Falls, the team’s only senior. “We’re at a point now where we’re able to make a little mistake and bounce back from it and still come out with a win.”
“Everybody has gotten comfortable with the new system. We know where each other is on the field. It’s good,” said sophomore forward Lorri Hiltz from Norridgewock, the Most Valuable Player in the NAC Tournament.
The Eagles have exhibited tremendous balance. Seven players have scored at least three goals and seven have registered at least an assist or a goal in their three NAC Tournament games.
“There isn’t one superstar, it’s everybody working together. And we’re all getting goals. It’s not like [just] one person is doing amazing,” said Hiltz, who has had a goal and an assist in the playoffs and has four goals and an assist on the season.
She downplayed her MVP award, saying “it’s more of a team thing.”
Junior forward Skye Ellis of Belfast epitomizes the fact the Eagles have received contributions from everyone.
Ellis hadn’t scored since the second game of the season until she got the game-tying goal against top seed St. Joseph’s off a penalty corner as time elapsed in regulation. Husson eventually won in penalty strokes. She added another goal in the 2-0 NAC championship game victory over the University of Maine-Farmington.
“That was everyone [who contributed to her goal]. I just happened to be there at the right spot and I got it in,” said Ellis. “I was just doing what I was told and I made sure I was there.”
Flaherty added, “No one cares who scores as long as we get the win.”
The Husson players also gave a lot of the credit to their coach.
“I love her. She’s amazing. She knows what she’s talking about,” said Kelley with the others in agreement.
The players are excited about facing an Amherst College team ranked 15th nationally.
“We’re ready. Let’s go,” said Hiltz.
“No one expected us to come this far after how we started out. We’re going to go out, have fun and work hard. Hopefully, we’ll come out on top,” said Ellis.
“We’re like a wild card. No one expects us to go anywhere. Like Coach said, we have a chance to shock a lot of people. That’s what we want to do,” said Hiltz. “We want to come in and just play. Have fun with it.”
Monks, Polar Bears qualify
The Husson College men will be joined by two other in-state teams in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
St. Joseph’s College of Standish will make its first-ever tourney appearance after winning the Great Northeast Athletic Conference tournament championship and Bowdoin College of Brunswick received an at-large berth.
St. Joseph’s, 14-7-1 overall, will visit Wesleyan University (Conn.), 11-1-4, for a Saturday game while Bowdoin, 11-4-1, will travel to take on 12-2-4 Plattsburgh State on Thursday night at 6.