Last season, Boston College field hockey had just three seniors and still posted an 11-win season, coming just a few narrow defeats short of extending an NCAA Tournament streak to five consecutive seasons. So with a roster largely returning and plenty of players expected to take steps forward, head coach Kelly Doton was confident that her team would improve on last year’s mark.
On Thursday morning in North Carolina, though, a season eerily similar to the one prior came to a disappointing halt, as the 13th-ranked Eagles were knocked off by No. 16 Virginia, 1-0, in their ACC Tournament opener and will be once again relegated to watching further postseason play from their homes.
BC (10-9, 2-4 Atlantic Coast) finished just a game above .500, suffering eight one-goal losses over the course of the year, the final one coming in the conference quarterfinals. The Eagles lost their final four games against conference opponents, watching an early and promising 2-1 mark in the ACC go by the wayside. They finished just 3-6 in October and beyond, a stark contrast to a September in which they posted a 6-2 record and sparked hope for a season more similar to 2016 than last year.
The Cavaliers (9-8, 2-4) were, on paper, far from an elite opponent to meet in the first round, but they boasted momentum that BC so desperately needed. UVA came to the neutral site game in Chapel Hill, N.C., as one seed below the Eagles, but had enjoyed much more success in the weeks prior—the Cavaliers had even upset No. 2 Maryland a few games earlier.
Still, it was the UVA team that BC had faced back in Newton earlier in the season and beaten. The Cavaliers didn’t possess much of an offensive presence and were rocking back on their heels throughout. In similar fashion to the 1-0 win for the Eagles back on Sept. 21, the game was deadlocked at the break, but it was BC who had dominated the pace of play.
The Eagles built a decisive 8-3 edge on shots in the opening stanza, even outshooting their opponents 5-0 through the first 15 minutes. The steady barrage of shots failed to crack the UVA defense though, a unit bolstered by Annie McDonough and Rachel Robinson, who both made defensive saves.
The star of the group was redshirt senior goaltender Carrera Lucas, though, undoubtedly playing at her highest level in an effort to avoid taking off the jersey with the bright orange “Virginia” emblazoned on it for the last time. Lucas would finish with a career-high nine saves, a fitting first game of the tournament for a goaltender who entered third in the conference in goals against average.
BC was caught off guard after the whistle to start the second, though, as the Cavaliers had realized they had a small window against an Eagles team that was methodically creating chances. The window proved to be long, however, as UVA worked its way to consecutive corners in a span of just a few minutes. The second proved to be the dagger in the BC season, as goaltender Jonna Kennedy initially denied Amber Ezechiels after the insertion, but left it out for Colleen Norair to one-time the rebound.
Norair’s goal came just eight and a half minutes into the second, leaving plenty of time for Doton’s team to find an answer. BC had three corner chances and peppered Lucas & Co. with 10 shots the rest of the way, but only three found their way on frame and were dealt with easily. The Eagles fizzled out, unable to find an equalizer, and watched as the clock ticked down on a disappointing early exit to the season.
Eighteen teams reach the NCAA Tournament, and just 10 of those spots belong to at-large bids. BC needed a strong showing in Chapel Hill at the ACC Tournament to get a chance at one of those spots—likely nothing short of a push to the finals. The tough conclusion to the year is striking, especially considering Doton can likely say the same things about this year’s team as she said about last year’s. Entering the 2018 campaign, Doton told BCEagles.com that there were a trio of overtime losses that had the Eagles won, it would be “a completely different feeling.” The same could be said about the plethora of one-goal losses this season. The caveat, however, is that at the end of the day, BC is 21-17 over the past two NCAA-less seasons—and a conference like the ACC is unforgiving to the middle of the pack.
Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / For The Heights