NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – With the sun sinking quickly and the wind blowing in off the nearby James River, McKenna Teague took dead aim at the Messiah goal, swept her stick forward and put the ball past Kayleigh Stewart.

Teague scored the decisive penalty stroke goal in the Polar Bears’ 2-1 victory Sunday, and her Bowdoin teammates mobbed her afterward. You never take winning the NCAA Division III field hockey championship for granted, even when you’ve won three of the last four.

“It’s an unbelievable privilege to win a national championship,” Bowdoin Coach Nicky Pearson said.

It’s a privilege that’s been denied 38-year Messiah Coach Jan Trapp, who faltered for the eighth time in the final. The Falcons have been in the Final Four 14 times.

“I would imagine that anybody not connected with Bowdoin wanted her to win today, because they feel that she’s deserving,” Pearson said.

Chief among the reasons that the NCAA prize continued to elude Messiah (19-3) was Bowdoin goalie Emily Neilson, who saw 20 Falcons shots, many of them on 24 penalty corners. Neilson had seven saves and earned high praise from Trapp.

“She was unbelievable,” said Trapp, whose team came into the tournament ranked No. 1 in the country. Bowdoin was No. 4.

The Falcons’ goal, scored with 8:52 to play in regulation, came when Emily Hursh deflected Natalie Ziegler’s shot from the center on a penalty corner.

That matched Ella Curren’s goal for Bowdoin, scored into the right corner of the goal on a bouncing shot from the top of the circle after a penalty-corner feed from Katie Herter with 1:57 to play in the opening half.

The 1-1 tie set up two scoreless 15-minute overtime periods that led to a penalty-stroke decision for only the second time in the 31-year history of the tournament.

It was the first time since Ithaca College beat Trenton State with penalty strokes to win the 1982 title.

The pressure in such a resolution rests on the goalies.

Asked how she approached the situation for only the second time in her career, Neilson said with a laugh, “To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I went into ‘goalie zone.’ At that point, it’s like a metaphysical experience. … It comes down to the ball and cat-like reflexes, hopefully.”

Those reflexes led to her diving stops of penalty strokes by Messiah’s Juliana Hershey and Lauren Voigt. Neilson’s counterpart, Stewart, had just as much success with Bowdoin’s Herter and Ingrid Oelschlager.

Then the Polar Bears’ Emily French broke the scoreless tie with a penalty-stroke shot, but it was matched by Messiah’s Leann Carroll.

After Bowdoin’s Kassey Matoin scored, Messiah’s Kilee Rosenberry missed the net entirely, leaving Teague with an opportunity.

“It’s pressure,” Teague said. “It’s a little nerve-racking as well. But Nicky told us to remember where we came from, to remember our home field in Brunswick and imagine we were back there.”

At that point, the math of the situation eluded her.

“I was really nervous and wasn’t really aware of what was going on,” Teague said. “And then I took a stroke and the team surrounded me.”

Her goal made it 3-1 in penalty strokes, 2-1 in score and earned Bowdoin another Division III field hockey championship.

It came after the 2009 season in which the Polar Bears failed to make the tournament after winning twice in a row. Three championships in the four years for seniors like Neilson made the 2009 season almost an anomaly.

“I think that we didn’t go to the NCAAs and that season wasn’t what it could have been was a big motivator this year,” Pearson said.

Trapp has yet another year of citing what-could-have-been as motivation.

“I don’t worry about whether it’s going to happen or not,” she said. “That’s not a thought. You want it for your girls. You want your girls to win the prize.”

The prize that goes back to Brunswick for the third time in four years.


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