Field hockey triples the NCAA fun
NORFOLK, Va. -- On an afternoon when the wind chill hovered in the 20s, it's no surprise that Polar Bears and Huskies thrived at Old Dominion University's L.R. Hill Sports Complex.
Red Raiders, too. Call it a field hockey final four in triplicate and a championship Sunday that featured all three games at the same site. Field hockey die-hards got to sit back and enjoy it -- save for that "breeze" coming off the Elizabeth River.
"This is so awesome," said Niki LeGrand, sitting alongside her husband, Dave, and a throng of girls from her daughter's high school field hockey team. "You don't get to see hockey like this anywhere."
The Division III Bowdoin Polar Bears (18-3) started off the day with a 1-0 win over Salisbury (17-4), Bowdoin's fourth national championship. Division II Shippensburg (20-1) was the next star, needing overtime and a penalty stroke for a 2-1 win over LIU Post (21-1). It was the first NCAA title for Shippensburg in any sport.
UConn (21-4) versus Duke (17-7) was the nightcap, with the Huskies prevailing 2-0 to win the program's first national title since 1985 and the first for Nancy Stevens, the sport's all-time winningest coach.
One venue, three championships isn't new for men's basketball or lacrosse, but it was a first for field hockey, boosted by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association holding its convention in nearby Virginia Beach this same weekend.
Friday's Division II and III semifinal games were played at the U.S. National Training Center, about 30 minutes from the ODU site.
"A few years ago, we felt like we could pull this off since Old Dominion was hosting," said Mary Berdo, chairman of Division I championships for field hockey. "Our field hockey membership is small. To be able to support our field hockey community in this regard, we thought, 'Why not try it?' We're really pleased with how today went, other than things we can't control. It's pretty chilly."
Funny, Bowdoin coach Dawn Chamberlin referred to it as "toasty."
The 12 qualifying teams spent Thursday night at a banquet, complete with photo booths and ice sculptures. It was an easygoing evening that allowed many of the players to mingle with opponents from all divisions.
"I thought it was pretty cool being at the banquet with Division I and Division III girls," said Shippensburg's Katie Shoop. "Sitting there, it was like, 'Wow, I'm sitting next to Maryland.' We look up to those girls as hockey players, so to be at the banquet with them was an honor."
Bowdoin's Olivia King, MVP of the Division III tournament, said, "Being able to see the different levels of field hockey being played and realize we're all putting in hard work because we all want the same thing -- that's a pretty cool experience."
Logistical glitches were minimal. Balls being delivered to the training center arrived late, and affording all six teams practice times on Saturday was daunting. A 10:30 a.m. start for the Division III championship wasn't ideal, though Chamberlin said it wasn't a problem.
"We usually play at 11," she said.
The D-III postgame awards ceremony was abrupt, as the Division II players took the field quickly. Brenda Meese, director of championships for D-III, said chief among her concerns was ensuring the specialness of winning an NCAA title was equal among the victors.
"You always worry that there's a feeling of Division I being the most important thing," she said.
By the time Duke and UConn grabbed the bill, the artificial turf had been watered three times -- a chilling spray for the folks in bleachers that provided no respite from the coldest day of the year here.
"We're here to cheer the teams on -- as long as we can handle the cold," said Morgan MacCartney, sitting with one of her field hockey teammates from Chesapeake's Hickory High School.
Attendance picked up throughout the day, growing from 1,386 for the first game to 1,728 by afternoon's end. Last year's Division I championship between Princeton and North Carolina, also held at the ODU venue, had an announced attendance of 1,139. The Division II and III championships combined to draw fewer than 400 fans a year ago.
One site, three games isn't going to be the norm in the sport anytime soon. Administrators said they will evaluate the 2013 event during their January meetings. Finding a site that can accommodate all 12 teams is tricky. Old Dominion will not be home to the event for the next two years but has bid for the 2015 and 2016 championships.
"The hockey world is small," Shippensburg coach Bertie Landes said. "We know each other. The D-I coaches are my peers and D-III, too. The beauty of this championship is we're all in the world of field hockey. And we never get to see each other's games. But the camaraderie of three teams coming together was wonderful."