Field Hockey: Saunders leads team into CAA Tournament

Friday’s loss to Northeastern made the importance of Sunday’s game painfully clear.

“For us, it was do or die,” head coach Tess Ellis said.

William and Mary’s 3-2 loss to Northeastern turned the regular season finale into a last-ditch effort to qualify for the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

“We just made too many mistakes Friday night against Northeastern. We outplayed them, but just didn’t put the ball in the back of the net,” Ellis said. “The team sort of rallied after a rough loss and a good practice Saturday. I think our senior players put it on themselves that they were going to control their own destiny.”

Control it they did, as the College (8-10, 3-3 CAA) scored a late goal in double overtime, downing Hofstra and lifting itself into the CAA semifinal match.

“In the past years, I think the team would have folded under the pressure,” Ellis said. “I think with the new regime and the group that we’ve had, we’ve certainly changed the attitude of William and Mary field hockey to a very competitive group of young ladies. I think they are able to handle anything.”

After managing 14 shots against Northeastern, the Tribe offense opened Sunday’s match with an effort that matched a program record last set in 1992. All told, the College hit 41 shots, with 21 shots on frame.

Senior forward Taylor Hodge led the onslaught, tallying a game-high 13 shots with seven on frame. Hodge’s effort marked the second-most shots in a single game in program history, just behind Jaime Bolen’s ’01 14 shots in 2000.

Despite the offensive prowess, Hofstra claimed the early advantage in the 24th minute. After denying the initial shot, sophomore goaltender Cate Johnson couldn’t react quickly enough to the scrum in front of her net, as the ball trickled over the goal-line to give Hofstra a one-goal lead.

The College equalized late in the second half, however. Sophomore midfielder Esty Byrd lofted a pass through the circle in the 57th minute, finding Hodge on the back post. Hodge snagged the pass out of the air and redirected it to the opposite post for the tying score.

The goal gave Hodge the team lead in goals with 10; the last player to score more than nine goals in a season, Kelly Giles ’06, won the CAA Player of the Year award in 2004.

As the game wore on, Ellis relied heavily upon her bench. In overtime, Ellis used a rotation of players, keeping fresh legs on the field at all times.

“We could substitute people of the bench without hurting us, while Hofstra had a tough game Friday against [James Madison], and the depth of their bench wasn’t quite as strong as ours,” Ellis said.

Shot after shot, however, either flew past the Pride’s cage harmlessly or found the sure glove of Hofstra keeper Kaitlyn De Turo. Pinned on her line for most of the match, De Turo finished the day with a career-high 19 saves.

After a scoreless first overtime period, the College took advantage of a more open field in the second overtime period. Sophomore Pippin Saunders broke free of Hofstra’s defense, bearing down on De Turo.

One jab step, cross-over and diving shot later, Saunders had ended the game and sent the College into the conference tournament.

“Pippin [Saunders] is just a gutsy player. She comes to practice, practices hard, and brings an attitude to the team that earns the girls respect,” Ellis said. “Yesterday she put it on her shoulders to say, ‘You know what, give me the ball and I’ll take it to cage and I’ll finish this.’”

As the Tribe focuses on the conference semifinal match Friday, Ellis points to a new mentality as the primary catalyst for the program’s late season success.

“We’ve certainly increased our percentage of shots over the last couple of games, but our focus was finishing, giving ourselves opportunities on penalty corners, and creating more opportunities,” Ellis said. “Instead of focusing on ‘me as a player,’ focusing on ‘my teammates around me’ and how we were going to help our teammates have a better game; I think that helped take the pressure off a few people.”

In Ellis’ opinion, the Tribe deserves its place in the tournament.

“The team beating [U.Va.] and [American University], both ranked, they deserve to go to conference,” Ellis said. “I think it was their time to step up and control the game.”

The College faces top-seeded No. 19 Delaware Friday, with the start set for 4 p.m. in Newark, Del.


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