Sometime Thursday afternoon, five members of the Bowdoin College field hockey team will follow Sarah McMahon to a quiet room hundreds of miles from the Brunswick campus.
Less than 24 hours after the players take their seats, Bowdoin will play Christopher Newport of Newport News, Va., in the Friday morning semifinals of the NCAA Division III field hockey tourney at Virginia Beach, Va. But first, three starters and two key substitutes must complete course exams. McMahon, an associate professor of history at Bowdoin and the faculty liaison to the field hockey team will oversee their work.
Think there will be a little stress in that room? Bowdoin does. Which is why the sports information office declined to identify the five.
Bowdoin field hockey has won three national championships since 2007 and made it to the NCAA semifinals seven times in the past nine years. The success of Coach Nicky Pearson’s team on the turf is cheered.
The honors her players receive at commencement each spring are applauded.
“My first year I was so overwhelmed,” said Molly Paduda, a senior midfielder from Madison, Conn., who was a freshman on the 2010 national championship team. “It was super chaotic. I definitely did not have time management skills, but I had very supportive upperclassmen around me.”
The question asked was how Bowdoin field hockey had become so consistently successful. The easy answer is Pearson, the Englishwoman who took the job as coach 18 years ago. Her 1997 team was the first to make it to the NCAA tournament. The first Final Four appearance was eight years later.
“Nicky knows how to get an individual player to play to their strength and then play to the strength of their teammates,” said Valerie Young, a captain of the 2007 NCAA championship team. “Nicky understands Bowdoin. She finds the girls who can juggle the academics and who can play the game.”
Bowdoin, like its fellow New England Small Conference Athletic Conference schools, has tough admissions standards. Classwork is difficult. Media types looking for interviews must dance around the study hours set by the athletes themselves, not the college.
Until about 20 years ago, NESCAC members did not permit its teams to participate in NCAA postseason tournaments. The thinking was too much classwork had already been interrupted during the regular season. The NCAA playoffs would only compound that.
That thinking was relaxed when NESCAC members worked harder on in-season schedules with less disruption. NESCAC teams were then allowed to compete for national championships. The academic standards were not relaxed.
“(Pearson) and Professor McMahon do a really good job of making players understand this is why you’re at Bowdoin,” said Paduda. She’s majoring in government. No, she wasn’t one of the five who will take an exam Thursday afternoon.
“I have in other years. It’s hard but the seniors are always there to explain how you’re going to get through it.” It’s teamwork of another type. One more reason for Bowdoin’s success.
After Bowdoin beat top-seeded Montclair (N.J.) State 1-0 in last weekend’s quarterfinals, Person was on the field enjoying the moment with her players. Within minutes she turned to McMahon. Who’s got exams coming up?
On the long bus ride from northern New Jersey back to Brunswick, the players asked that the movie playing on the monitors be turned off. “The girls know how to chill and when to chill,” said McMahon. “They wanted their quiet time to study. I was sitting with Nicky at the front of the bus. I didn’t hear a word behind me.”
Yes, Person does have an eye for field hockey talent. Players who can score, who can defend. Who can play starring roles, who can best support. “With all the success, she can pick and choose,” said Paduda.
Young majored in psychology and government. “Juggling never changes, just the mix. At Bowdoin, to be able to do homework on the bus keeps things in perspective. It still does.”
A native of Concord, N.H., she lives in Washington, D.C. She’s a relatively short ride from Virginia Beach. “That’s right, but I bought my tickets to fly (to New Hampshire) for Thanksgiving. I should have known better.” She’ll follow the game on line. Christopher Newport is making its first appearance in the NCAA semifinals. Bowdoin has experience in these games.
The clock ticks. Friday’s test on the turf will be preceded by Thursday’s exams in a quiet room. One of McMahon’s history students is on the team. Will that player be taking an exam?
“No,” laughed McMahon, “I scheduled mine for another time.” The professor had more than a hunch this team would be busy the week before Thanksgiving.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: