It was a chilly but sunny Friday for the Fairfield (19-3) and UConn (19-3) field hockey program’s get together at the George J. Sherman Family Field complex. Those who turned out and lasted to the end-and then some saw the Huskies come away with a 2-1 overtime win in the Husky’s NCAA Tournament opener. The game was head coach Nancy Steven’s 700th victory, and it was chock full of both excitement and uncertainty until the very end.
The first quarter was initially lacking, as nerves manifested in bumbled dribbles, missed passes, and turnovers. The Huskies press would net them more zone time as the period went on, but they were held scoreless.
UConn had their first offensive late in the first. Senior defender and co-captain Antonia Tiedtke brought the ball up from the midfield and rocketed a contested shot that yielded the Huskies a penalty corner. Tiedtke, the teams assist leader, took the corner and set up Abby Gooderham, but her shot was no good. Another penalty corner ensued; this time, Fairfield goalie Zoe Rosen made the save on a Gooderham shot. Less than a minute later, junior Maddie Wray drove to the touchline and sent a crossing pass that made it through, but without a Husky to meet it.
As the first expired, senior forward Svea Boker would force a final offensive attack, and a Stags’ infraction netted a third penalty corner with 00:00 on the clock. A strong shot from the Huskies went just wide.
The Stags surprisingly created a two-on-one advantage off the dead ball, but goalie Cheyenne Sprecher would come out to break up Page Lowry’s possession before she could look to shoot.
Fairfield, which was at the whim of the Huskies most of the first half, would put on some sustained pressure with six minutes left in the quarter, including a dangerous pass that needed to be poked away by Tiedtke. However, the Huskies finished the second, like the first, controlling the pace and play. But they could not find the back of the goal, and the game went to halftime 0-0, despite a 6-1 shot and 4-0 penalty corner advantage.
UConn sustained pressure again in the third. About two minutes in, they created a scrum in front of the net, and Rosen was forced to make a play breaking things up. Roughly two minutes after that, Wray, moving towards the middle in the offensive zone, softly slid a pass just ahead to Sophie Hamilton. She would rocket a shot that missed the net by inches, and the Husky’s best bid of the day went wayside.
Fairfield would break the game open at 38:30 as they drew a penalty corner and their first strong chance. Danielle Profitatook the corner. Her pass came in, was received- then bumped back out slightly wide. The shot from outside by freshman Julianna Kratz bounced off a Fairfield offender and past Sprecher into the goal.
The Huskies showed immediate resilience. Wray created pressure, and freshman midfield McKenna Sergi created a penalty corner for the Huskies. Tiedtke fed Jandewerth, but her shot was broken up by the rushing Fairfield defense. It was a quarter full of offensive noise for the UConn offense, but an errant pass, an extra dribble, or a defensive play by Fairfield would impede their best efforts.
All quarter the Huskies kept the pressure on, forcing turnovers and asserting their will on the game following Fairfield’s goal. In the final minute, Boker forced a turnover and found Hamilton, but her shot was turned away.
With 12 minutes left in the final frame, UConn yet again was awarded a penalty corner, after the officials went to a video review of the infraction. Their bid was unsuccessful, but the Huskies kept the pressure on.
Boker created two good opportunities that were stopped by Rosen, and the third time was the charm for the Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Taking the ball on the near side, she beat two Fairfield defenders into space outside the crease and put a shot in the top-shelf that Rosen had no chance at.
The Stags didn’t relent afterward, earning a shot that required a Sprecher save and another penalty corner, but this time Jessica Dembrowski kept them out of the net.
Boker had another great chance in the center of the field and just outside the crease, but her shot was too high. She would rocket a cross from the far side that cut through the defense, and that just missed a UConn stick. She drew a foul and a penalty corner with 3:27 left.
The Huskies did not convert, nor could they convert on another one 30 seconds later, but it was still Boker’s quarter. Despite her best efforts, the Huskies would only muster one goal, requiring the game head to overtime.
In overtime, the Huskies did not take long. Boker received a pass from Hamilton and bulled ahead, drawing a foul. Off the restart, Hamilton started dribbling right, stopped, and redirected, splicing through two Fairfield defenders. Still moving forward, the freshman from England wound up a backhand and beat Rosen hard and low to the far side just 50 seconds into the extra frame.
In many ways, it was representative of the game at large for UConn. The Huskies created pressure that turned Fairfield over, and it was Boker asserting herself offensively that set Hamilton up.
It was Hamilton’s ninth goal of the season and one of her three shots on the day. UConn outshot the Stags 14-2 and led in corners 8-1 to one. Outside of a few spurts, they controlled the game. Breaking through was an issue, but in crunch time, their potent attack kicked into action.
The Huskies will take on the Princeton Tigers did not face the same offensive woes as UConn, taking Syracuse 5-1. That regional final will be held Sunday in Storrs at 1:00 p.m.
The Tigers own a potent offensive attack. Prior to Syracuse, the Tigers were scoring 3.16 goals per game, fourth in the country. Junior Clara Roth was first on the team and in the Ivy League with 14 goals. Sammy Popper, Ali McCarthy, and Hannah Davey were behind her with 10, 10, and nine goals apiece in supporting Roth. Junior Julianna Tornetta led the conference in assists (11) and assists per game (.65).
Roth and Davey had two goals each against the Orange, while McCarthy had one. UConn stymied their attack earlier this year when they went to New Jersey and beat Princeton 2-1. It was a revenge for the home defeat the Huskies suffered to Princeton at home in 2018, a 5-2 drubbing
Grace Baylis has had an excellent season in goal for the Tigers. Coming into the NCAA tournament she had a goals-allowed average of 1.85 and a save percentage of .603.
The winner advances the Final Four hosted in Winston-Salem, North Carolina the following weekend.