BRUNSWICK – The Bowdoin College women’s athletic program began the academic year with an NCAA Division III national title in field hockey. The Polar Bears’ lacrosse team will try to end the year with another title at this weekend’s Division III Final Four.

Eight women have been on both teams, and if you think it hasn’t been a factor in this current run, think again.

The 11th-ranked Polar Bears (17-3) will play College of New Jersey (20-0), the country’s top-ranked team, in the opening semifinal at 5 p.m. Saturday in Garden City, N.Y.

SUNY Cortland and Gettysburg College meet in the other semifinal at 8 p.m. The winners play for the national title at 3 p.m. Sunday.

For nearly one third of the players on the lacrosse team, already having played in a Final Four is a plus.

“We know what it’s like to be in a Final Four,” said Liz Clegg, a junior attack from Hudson, Ohio. Having played both is definitely going to help us. We know what it’s like to play in pressure games.

“I’m really excited to play (College of New Jersey).

While playing the games is what counts, there’s more to a Final Four than just the competition. There’s a banquet Thursday night along with a community service obligation on Friday.

“We’re going to help coach a youth lacrosse team,” said Clegg.

The players with Final Four experience know it can be mentally and physically exhausting. Combine that with the fact this week was final exams for Bowdoin and it’s been a hectic stretch.

The players with Final Four experience will no doubt pass on their knowledge to their younger teammates who don’t.

“We’re familiar with it,” said Ingrid Oelschlager of Roanoke, Va., who prepped at Phillips Exeter Academy. “Attitude and work ethicwise, we know what it takes.

“We’ll be focused. I feel we’re peaking.”

Oelschlager is one of two seniors on the team. The Polar Bears have captured three out of the last four Division III field hockey national titles, with Oelschlager a part of all three.

“I played on a national championship team as a freshman,” said Oelschlager. “I knew we had a lot of talent in lacrosse. Our goal at the start of the season was to win a national title.”

Asked if having eight field hockey players with Final Four experience on the lacrosse team was a key, Oelschlager said: “For sure.”

Bowdoin will have its hands full against College of New Jersey, which has won 11 national titles in 24 seasons under Coach Sharon Pfluger.

“We’re playing the top program in the country,” said Clegg.

Clegg called the win over Trinity last Sunday for the regional title “pretty cool.”

“It was one of the most exciting athletic games I’ve played,” she said.

Bowdoin avenged a regular-season 8-7 loss by beating Trinity, 9-6. The Polar Bears played outstanding defense and held New England Small College Athletic Conference player of the year Rachel Romanowsky scoreless while limiting her to four shots. Trinity scored first, but Bowdoin scored the next four goals over six minutes, two by Clegg.

“Our goalie, Tara Connolly, was amazing. The whole team really played well,” said Clegg.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, Clegg said: “It’s important to know the other team’s tendencies, but we’re focusing on what we need to get better.”

This school year ranks as one of Bowdoin’s best athletically. Women’s lacrosse is the third team to make it to a Final Four, joining field hockey and men’s soccer. The women’s basketball team made it to the Sweet 16. The men’s hockey team won the NESCAC title and a game in the Division III national playoffs, and the baseball team finished at 24-14, missing a chance to play for the conference title and an automatic berth in the national playoffs on Sunday because a rainout cut short the tournament.

Tufts, which had a 2-0 record in the tournament, was named champion and earned the bid. The Polar Bears failed to get an at-large berth.

“We’re had a lot of support from the students and faculty,” said Clegg. “The women’s lacrosse program has never been to a Final Four. It’s really special.”

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: Twitter.com/TomChardPPH