Field Hockey, Sports, Fall, Column

In Fifth Year, Doton Finally Has Eagles Ready to Compete With ACC’s Best

On Sunday afternoon, Boston College field hockey beat New Hampshire, 2-0, to win its sixth consecutive game. It’s a stretch that has been impressive for several reasons. Firstly, it’s not like the Eagles have played a weak schedule. In fact, the six-game streak has featured three wins against ranked opponents, including No. 8 Virginia and No. 15 Syracuse—two teams that BC has, historically, posted a combined 18-38 against. 

What’s more, BC arguably hasn’t had to stretch its legs too much in any of the six games. Sure, there have been tense moments—the winning goal in the Eagles’ 2-1 win against the Orange came with just under four minutes to play—but BC has yet to trail during its run of victories. Perhaps most impressively, though, the Eagles have conceded just one (yes, one) total goal in its last six games. The entire defense, and goaltender Sarah Dwyer in particular, has upped its game, while Margo Carlin has provided BC’s offense with a deadly scoring threat. After years of struggling once ACC play rolls around, Kelly Doton and the Eagles are on track to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. This is a stark turnaround from midway through the season, when it looked like the Eagles were on track for another disappointing season. A third-consecutive underwhelming season would have likely raised questions about Doton’s viability as head coach moving forwards. Instead, on the heels of its six-game win streak, BC heads into its matchup with No. 1 North Carolina as a legitimate ACC contender. 

Take a look at the Eagles’ history of defending in conference under Doton. In 2018, BC earned six shutouts, but just one came in the ACC. In six conference contests, the Eagles conceded two goals per game, a figure that would currently rank 44th out of 77 Division I teams if extrapolated to a whole season. 

In 2017, it was worse. In its ACC opener, BC lost, 6-0, to Syracuse and never recovered. The Eagles never conceded less than two goals in conference play, and finished the year allowing 3.33 goals per game in the ACC, which would currently put them in the bottom 10 nationwide this season in goals per contest allowed.

Both of those years, the Eagles missed the NCAA Tournament after making it in back-to-back seasons to start Doton’s tenure at the program’s helm. But even when BC did make postseason appearances, it had issues defensively. In 2015, the Eagles conceded 20 goals in six conference games, and in 2016 they allowed 15, which averages out to 2.5 goals per game allowed. For one more point of comparison, in 2019 just Wake Forest—which is also the only program in the conference outside the top 15—is the only ACC squad conceding more goals per game than those 2015 and 2016 Eagles teams.  

Now, to be fair, the ACC is certainly the toughest field hockey conference in the country. Currently, five of the top-10 teams in the nation, by RPI, reside in the conference, headlined by No. 1 UNC. Moreover, teams currently in the ACC have a total of 11 national championships, and before leaving for the Big Ten, Maryland won eight more. Add that all up, and the extent of the conference’s dominance on a national level becomes clear—ACC teams have won 19 of 38 possible championships. Granted, the Terrapins no longer play in the conference, so there’s not quite as much hardware present, but in the latest NFHCA Coaches Poll, six of the seven ACC teams were ranked within the top 15. 

This season, though, it appears that Doton has finally figured out a solid defensive formula. BC opened the ACC slate with a 2-0 win over the Demon Deacons, and although it did concede three goals in its lone conference loss of the season to Louisville, has rebounded excellently since then. First, the Eagles went on the road to UVA and held the No. 8 Cavaliers scoreless, nabbing a 1-0 win. Then, at home on Friday, BC gave up its first goal in five games, but still rebounded to sneak past No. 15 Syracuse, 2-1. In total, the Eagles have allowed just four goals in four ACC games. Only the No. 1 Tar Heels, who are a perfect 12-0, have conceded less. 

For that, Dwyer in particular deserves praise. The senior started a total of 31 games in 2017 and 2018, but found herself behind Jonna Kennedy on the depth chart to start the season. Nevertheless, she got the starting nod against the Cavaliers after Kennedy let in eight goals in the span of two games, and has fit in seamlessly. After the 2-0 win against the Wildcats, she is allowing just 0.66 goals per contest. And, of course, the rest of the defense, from Sky Caron— who has recorded 11 points—to freshman Darcy Clement, who is second on the team in minutes played, to upperclassmen Emily Buttinger and Kate Pianko, have also played an integral part in a suddenly rock-solid backline. 

And it would certainly be an error of omission not to mention Carlin, the freshman forward who is already writing her name in the record books. In 2018, BC’s leading scorer was Frederique Haverhals. The then-senior totaled nine goals in 19 games. Next up on the scoring charts? Brooke Matherson, who finished the season with six scores. In 2019, with two games still to play, Carlin already has more goals than the two of them combined, with 17.

The Drexel Hill, Pa., native has failed to score in just four of 15 contests this season and has already recorded more goals in a single season than any other player Kelly Doton has coached. If Carlin keeps up this pace throughout her four years in Chestnut Hill, she’ll break the program record for goals scored, which is currently held by Bob Dirks.

Between recruiting Carlin, and pushing all the right buttons defensively, it seems Doton is finally ready to take the Eagles back to the postseason. What’s more, this looks like a team capable of competing with the best the ACC has to offer. Barring catastrophic performances against both UNC and Duke to end the year, BC is easily on pace for its best defensive season (at least in conference) in the past five years. And, with two games to play, the Eagles have already matched their best conference performance of three wins under Doton. 

An upcoming Friday night contest against the No. 1 Tar Heels—who hold an all-time record of 16-2 against BC—is certainly the biggest test yet of whether the Eagles are truly ready to compete with conference powerhouses, but for now Doton and the entire BC team deserve a lot of credit for its six-game win streak. After two down years that featured a total of just two ACC wins, the Eagles finally look ready to make a climb towards the top of the conference.

Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

October 23, 2019