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UConn field hockey wins Big East Championship, will host in NCAA Tournament

Nancy Stevens’ squad is the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

The dynasty continues. Perhaps less heralded than the women’s basketball program, UConn field hockey (18-3) has long been a primary driver of athletic success for the institution. With a 2-0 victory over Old Dominion (ODU) in the Big East Conference Tournament Championship held at Quinnipiac University on Sunday, another accolade is in the books.

The Huskies were simply a cut above on ODU on Sunday in Hamden. The Monarchs played well but the Huskies established a grip on the game that really never waned. The championship is head coach Nancy Steven’s eighth-consecutive conference title and the program’s 18th overall.

The Monarchs (11-7), who UConn defeated 6-2 earlier in the regular season, put on the first threatening moment about 9:30 into the first quarter when they lofted a pass from far out into the UConn zone. Huskies goalkeeper Cheyenne Sprecher lost positioning, which left the net open briefly, but the Old Dominion attacker took a wild swing, missing the ball and the opportunity.

UConn had a favorable run of their own as the Huskies broke the Old Dominion pressure to find senior Svea Boker upfield. She drew a whistle and quick ball movement led to an open Maddie Wray carrying the ball on the near side. Wray put a shot on net, but Monarch goalkeeper Cam MacGillivray made a strong kick save. It would be their best chance in an opening salvo that was back and forth until the final minutes.

With about a minute left in the first, UConn drew a penalty corner. Huskies have executed well on set pieces all year, but MacGillivray stretched to deflect away a shot from freshman back Claire Jandewerth. The Huskies quickly earned another penalty corner, this time yielding a shot that was too high.

Nearly three minutes into the second quarter, UConn’s Vivian Tucker picked up at green card and give Old Dominion a player-up advantage. The Huskies did not let it affect their play, ending up on the attack by lofting the ball into the ODU zone and earning a penalty corner. Abby Gooderham put a shot on from the pass by Antonia Tiedtke, but MacGillivray dropped to her knees and made the save.

UConn, courtesy of physicality by Gooderham, picked up its second green card at 22:24. This time the Monarchs applied some pressure with their advantage but did not create any legitimate scoring chances.

Nicole Fredericks spoiled the end of ODU’s man-up situation, picking up a green card of her own for coming in with excessive contact from behind as UConn moved upfield. It was a continuation of the physicality that marked the game.

”Every Big East Championship, the intensity is crazy,” Sprecher said. “I think today was just that caliber.”

The Huskies couldn’t do anything with their edge, nor with another advantage created when Old Dominion’s Tori Harwood picked up another green card later in the quarter. UConn did earn a corner with 45 seconds left in the half as an ODU defender deliberately pushed a ball out of bounds but did not generate a real scoring chance on the take.

Old Dominion took a yellow card about four minutes into the second, putting them at a long disadvantage. Shortly after, UConn erupted.

First, Wray took a long pass from the UConn defensive third. Putting a spin on her defender, she tapped along a pass to Boker, whose coverage had left her to help. MacGillivray came out to the ball attempting to make a play, but Boker deftly spun around right-to-left, then blasted the ball into the far side of the open net.

Just over a minute later, at 37:34, Boker was back at it. Crisp passing found sophomore back Lindsay Dickinson streaking up the near side. She fed freshman Marie Auer up at the backline, and her centering pass made it through the morass onto the stick of a crashing Boker, her second goal of the game. The goals were Boker’s 19th and 20th of the season.

”We just wanted to come out and really win the game,” Boker said postgame. “I think you saw that. We came out aggressive and played well.”

Old Dominion generated a pair of penalty corners late in the third, but like most of their efforts on the day, could not create fruitful scoring bids. UConn ultimately outshot them 12-6 for the game.

The Huskies barrage continued. Junior center back Kourtney Kennedy put a long pass from deep into UConn territory up to a wide-open Jessica Dembrowski on the far offensive third. Her pass to the front of the net was broken up but netted another corner for UConn. Jandewerth would launch a rocket that hit the post, and Old Dominion held off further doom momentarily. Wray ripped a high shot that required saving shortly after as well.

The Monarchs got a dangerous ball near the net after a pass deflected off the UConn defense, but Sprecher’s foot knocked it wide and out of reach for a rebound finish. UConn survived the wave and again, it was Wray countering by putting a strong shot on for MacGillivray to save as the quarter ran out.

Old Dominion started the fourth quarter well, including forcing a diving break-up from Sprecher on one wave of attack. Auer picked up a green card midway through the period but the Monarchs could do nothing with their brief upper hand. In order to maximize a final surge, ODU pulled MacGillivray at the 56:59 mark. It would lead to one decent chance, but Dickinson was there in defense to send it away.

The Monarchs outshot UConn 3-0 in the final frame, but it wasn’t enough against a superior Huskies team. Boker put up the points, but it was a well-rounded performance from UConn that ruled the day

Postgame Stevens said as much, telling Boker it was a great game but a team effort as well.

”She congratulated us for staying resilient and for the great game.”

Boker was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Sophia Hamilton, Tiedtke, Sprecher, and Wray all joined her on the All-Tournament Team.

NCAA-bound

The Huskies hope they are far from done. They are slotted as the No. 2 overall team in the 2019 NCAA Tournament and are among the favorites for the national championship.

First Stevens and staff will have a lot of scouting to do, as they will await the winner of a play-in game between Fairfield (18-2) and American (13-5). Should they win, UConn will face either Princeton (13-4) or Syracuse (12-6).

Fairfield has won 11 games in row, including the Northeast Conference Championship over Rider, 2-1 in overtime. The Stags and UConn last faced off in 2014, a 4-0 victory for the then-No. 4 ranked Huskies in Storrs. American, who lost to Old Dominion 1-0 earlier in the season, was undefeated in Patriot League play this season. They hosted the Huskies, again ranked No. 4 at the time, on Oct. 28 last season and were defeated 5-1.

Both Princeton and Syracuse are foes who gave UConn tough games this season. UConn defeated the Tigers 2-1 in overtime in New Jersey on Sept. 22, payback for a home-loss that disrupted their unbeaten streak in 2018. The Orange came to Storrs on Oct. 20 and left with a 1-0 victory that required a shootout, UConn’s only home loss suffered all year.

Both UConn’s opener and the Princeton-Syracuse contest will be held at the George Sherman Sports Complex on Friday, Nov. 15. UConn will start at 12:00 p.m. with the Tigers and Orange meeting at 2:30.

Awaiting UConn at the bottom of their side of the bracket is No. 3 Virginia, while No. 1 UNC and No. 4 Louisville maintain the top seeds on the other side. The Final Four is hosted by Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the semifinals and final will be streamed live on NCAA.com.

Sprecher was succinct in what is next: “Hopefully, more championships.”

Other Parts of a BIG Weekend

Preceding the victory over Old Dominion was a 2-0 victory over Providence in the tournament semifinal on Friday. Tied 0-0 at the half, the Huskies broke through at the 33:48 mark. Senior captain Antonia Tiedtke took a penalty corner that found sophomore Maddie Wray. Tiedtke crashed in from the outside, where she found a rebound and buried it.

Later, Boker, with a nifty backhand pass, found a wide-open Wray where she beat the Friar’s keeper and sealed a Huskies victory. UConn outshot Providence 20-8, including 8-2 in the final quarter.

It was the second in the trio of terrific acts while in Hamden for the weekend. On Thursday, UConn racked up acclaim as the Big East released its conference regular-season awards.

Boker was named unanimous Offensive Player of the Year and Sprecher was named Co-Defensive Player of the Year with Liberty junior Ashley Dykema.

Boker and Sprecher, along with freshman Sophie Hamilton were named First Team All-Conference while Tiedtke and Gooderham were named to the Second Team.

The coaching staff of Stevens, Paul Caddy, and Cheri Schulz won their sixth consecutive Coaching Staff of the Year award as well.

It continues an era of Big East dominance for the Huskies, as they have not lost a regular-season conference game in 39 matches dating back to 2013 and seven straight regular-season titles.