|Despite a loss, the field hockey team squeaked into the tournament for the second straight year.||The men’s soccer team clinched its second straight playoff berth with a win over Richmond.|
The rules were quite simple for the field hockey team Saturday. Beat Saint Joseph’s in the season finale and the Owls would clinch a berth in the Atlantic Ten tournament.
Lose to St. Joe’s, as they did last year on the final day of the season, and the Owls would have to cross their fingers and hope that West Chester lost to La Salle in order to sneak into the tournament through the back door.
The Owls (9-10, 3-3) were relegated to the second scenario when they lost to the Hawks Saturday, 3-1, but still managed a postseason spot with West Chester’s 2-1 loss to the Explorers.
“It’s not the way I wanted to get in,” coach Lauren Fuchs said when one of her assistant coaches received a text message on her cell phone reporting that the Golden Rams had lost. “But we’ll take it.”
The Owls were coming off consecutive wins over La Salle and West Chester, matching their longest winning streak of the season. But missed offensive chances and an onslaught of Hawks goals halted that momentum.
“The first 15 minutes of the game, we had a lot of opportunities, and we just couldn’t capitalize,” said junior forward Rachel Barber, who scored the Owls’ only goal with 18:28 remaining in the second half. “We do that a lot. We’ll be up there in their zone but have trouble finishing. It’s been a struggle just to put the ball in the net.”
Senior goalkeeper Erin Conroy has held her own against powerful offenses in the past, but the Owls’ inability to score put more pressure on her against the Hawks. Conroy managed five saves, but allowed three goals. All of those were assisted by Hawks’ standout midfielder Nicole Antonini, who set a new school season record with 15 assists.
“With three years of playing experience, I can’t get down because I allow one or even three goals,” Conroy said. Of the tournament berth, she added: “You just get in any way you can.”
Richmond, the Owls’ first-round opponent in the A-10 tournament, was far ahead of the pack all season. The Spiders finished with a perfect 6-0 record in the conference.
Graduate assistant Cindy Tindall did not speak at length after Saturday’s game, but was clearly displeased with the outcome.
“Nobody really wants to face [Richmond] until the finals,” Tindall said.
Success in the tournament means winning consecutive games, something the Owls have struggled to do all season. They posted two three-game losing streaks but never won more than two straight. Now, the Owls are just searching for a workable balance of offense and defense.
“One thing that has held us back this season is consistency, and hopefully getting into the tournament means winning two straight,” Conroy said. “But even if you don’t win consecutive games, we still want to play consistently throughout the game.”
Barber said the Owls are going into the tournament upbeat despite the loss.
“In the past three games, we’ve really clicked in ways we didn’t early in the season, especially as far as playing as a team,” Barber said. “Even today, even though we slumped a little, we still played a good game. If we play at the pace we’ve been playing, we should be fine.”
|As the men’s soccer team headed home after its 1-0 win over Richmond on Sunday, the team bus repeatedly lost power every 20 minutes or so before it became a brick by the side of the road in the middle of Virginia.
The breakdown left the Owls (9-7-2, 6-2-2) with plenty of time to contemplate their season up to this point, since there wasn’t much else to do.
“The guys are trying to study a little bit, but there aren’t even any lights on in the bus,” coach Dave MacWilliams said as darkness descended. “We’re just waiting for a mechanic to arrive, and hoping we can get home tonight.”
It wasn’t the best ending to what was overall a fairly successful weekend. Although the Owls lost at George Washington, 1-0, on Friday, they bounced back with the win over Richmond to stay within striking distance of Dayton for the second seed in the Atlantic Ten tournament with one game remaining in the regular season.
The six best teams in the conference qualify for the tournament, and the top two seeds get first-round byes.
“We’re definitely still trying to get that second spot,” MacWilliams said. “It’s just unfortunate we’ve got to get help from other people to do it.”
Win or lose, the Owls are prepared to take whatever comes in the postseason. After all, they advanced to the conference final last year as the third seed, so that doesn’t lessen their chances at the title. But with an A-10 trophy likely their only ticket into the NCAA tournament, any free game would be welcome.
“I don’t think there’s any way, with the amount of losses we’ve had, to get an at-large bid,” MacWilliams said.
“It adds pressure,” he added, “because we only have one way into the NCAA tournament, and that’s by winning the conference.”
Junior forward Nick Ebersole kept the chase for a bye alive against Richmond when he scored the game-winning goal with 27 seconds left in regulation. With the victory, the Owls can clinch the No. 2 seed next Sunday if they beat Saint Joseph’s and Dayton loses to Xavier.
It’s not a new situation for a team that was 3-5 at the start of conference play and knew its postseason hopes hinged on every play.
“We’ve talked about every game as we’ve been approaching the end of the season, that we could be playing the last game that could put us out of the tournament,” MacWilliams said.
With that in mind, the coach wants his players well-rested when they take the field for the conference tourney, whether they are battling to advance or enjoying a first-round bye.
“The only difference [from last year’s tournament] is this year it’s on artificial turf,” MacWilliams said. “That does a lot to wear on you over the course of three days. That’s another reason we’d like a bye.”
Whenever the Owls’ run for the A-10 title begins, their focus will probably be the same. They need to win the conference crown, or be left by the side of the road.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.