NORFOLK, Va. — The Bowdoin Polar Bears won the NCAA Division III field hockey championship Sunday, but senior midfielder Olivia King said the process actually began a year ago.

Speaking to the media after Bowdoin’s aggressive defense shut down Salisbury for a 1-0 victory, King thought back to the end of the 2012 season – an emotionally devastating 2-1 loss in the regional final to eventual national champion Tufts.

“After that game we knew we never wanted to feel that way again,” King said. “We knew what we were capable of, and we didn’t get there last year. From the very start of this season, we didn’t want it to end that way again.”

Mission accomplished.

In this year’s regional final, the Polar Bears (18-3) upset top-seeded Montclair State. Then after beating Christopher Newport University in the semifinals, they knocked off second-seeded Salisbury, limiting the Seagulls to two shots on goal and one penalty corner – both record lows for a final four.

“We put a huge emphasis every day in practice on one-on-one defense,” senior Katie Riley said.

“We want every player on the field to shut her girl down. That’s what we did today.”

They did it on a chilly day in Virginia, with temperatures in the 30s and winds whipping hard.

Not that the elements bothered the Bowdoin players.

“It was warmer than our practices in Brunswick last week,” King said with a smile.

The championship game was a tight defensive battle from the start. Junior Rachel Kennedy scored from in front of the goal in the opening minutes of the second half.

“When the ball came to my stick,” Kennedy said, “I knew I had to get it to the back of the goal.”

Moments later, Salisbury (17-4) almost tied the game on a penalty corner – but the goal did not count because the ball had deflected into the net off the body of a Salisbury player. That was as close as the Seagulls would get to a goal.

“I am so proud of my team,” Bowdoin Coach Nicky Pearson said. “It was such a privilege to stand on the sideline today and watch them perform. This just capped off an unbelievable season.”

The national title is the fourth in seven years for Bowdoin, and it provided a perfect finish for the seniors who had begun their careers by winning the 2010 championship.

Riley arrived at the postgame press conference wearing a huge grin and a T-shirt proclaiming Bowdoin the 2013 national champs.

“My new favorite shirt,” she said with a laugh.

Asked to describe the moment, she replied: “Honestly, it feels surreal. Our goal at the start of the season was to win the national title, and now we’ve done it. I can’t believe it.”

King was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Kennedy, Riley and midfielder Mettler Growney, a 5-foot-1 freshman who played a key role both on defense and with her ballhandling skills on offense.

Growney said the Polar Bears won the game with their defensive determination.

“We beat them to every ball,” she said. “We did so many little things right, and it just goes to show that little things matter in a big way. We picked apart their game and didn’t let them execute.”

While the seniors had finished off their careers with a championship, Growney had just begun hers.

“I’m in awe,” Growney said. “Every single day in practice was about getting us to this moment. It doesn’t get any better than this.”