VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Katie Riley won a national championship as a freshman. Now as a senior on the Bowdoin field hockey team, she is one game away from a second.
After the Polar Bears beat Christopher Newport University 4-1 in the NCAA Division III semifinal at Virginia Beach on Friday, she wasted no time answering how it would feel to close out her career with another national title.
“It’d be amazing,” she said immediately, her face breaking into a wide grin. “I want it. I want it so badly.”
Sitting next to her, sophomore Rachel Kennedy was asked about the prospect of winning her first national championship.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “After we lost last year at the NCAAs, we were so upset but it just made us that much more hungry to make it there this year.”
Bowdoin (17-3) will play for the championship at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., against Salisbury State, a 3-2 winner over Skidmore in the other semifinal.
Riley and Kennedy have been the Polar Bears’ dynamic scoring leaders all season, and Friday’s game at the USA Field Hockey National Training Facility was no different. Riley scored two goals in the first half and Kennedy added two in the second half as Bowdoin (17-3) kept play bottled up in its offensive end for most of the game.
Christopher Newport (21-2) took a 1-0 lead barely four minutes into the game, but Riley tied it less than a minute later. CNU senior Marcy Hoath said the quick turnaround took away any sense of momentum that the Captains had gained.
“We call that the red zone – because right after you score, it’s when the other team is likely to score one back on you,” Hoath said. “We fell victim to our red zone.”
After Riley’s first goal tied it, the Polar Bears took charge of the game. They outshot CNU 14-6 and had twice as many penalty corners (8-4).
The fast pace of the water-based surface in Virginia Beach worked to the advantage of the Polar Bears, who play on a similar surface. Christopher Newport plays on an infield surface that slows the pace – the Captains did not play a single game on water-based turf all year until Friday’s semifinal.
“We liked be able to play on a surface that’s similar to what we play on at home,” Bowdoin coach Nicky Pearson said. “That fast pace plays right into our style of play.”
Both of Riley’s goals came from the left side, about five yards out from the net. On the first, she chipped the ball past CNU goalkeeper Bailey Lien. The second, with about five minutes left in the first half, came on a second effort after Lien had made the initial save.
Riley attributed the 2-1 halftime advantage to her team’s resilience after giving up a goal in the opening minutes.
“We’re not the sort of team to get taken out of our game by something like that,” she said. “It just made us a little hungrier to turn around and get that goal back.”
In the second half, the Polar Bears’ defense limited CNU to just two shots, and junior goalkeeper Hannah Gartner had the answers anytime the Captains got close.
Kennedy’s first goal – converting a rebound after a Bowdoin penalty corner – came with 23 minutes left in the game, but the 3-1 lead was all but insurmountable for a Christopher Newport team whose calling card has been a smothering defense.
The Captains tried everything to create scoring opportunities, but the Polar Bears prevented them from putting together sequences of passes to move the ball upfield. Kennedy’s final goal simply served as an exclamation point on a victory that was already in hand.
“After the first few minutes, we made some adjustments and settled in,” Pearson said. “I’m very proud that we could score four goals against a very good defensive team. Now we’re just looking forward to one more.”