Sports, Fall, Field Hockey

Five-Minute Guide: Everything You Need to Know About the NCAA Tournament

After an 11-win regular season and an inspired run to the ACC Championship Game—the first appearance in program history—Boston College field hockey ended a two-year drought with an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The field features six ACC teams in total, and the Eagles (13-7, 4-2 Atlantic Coast) will look to replicate their ACC Tournament success and avoid a first-round exit like they had back in 2016. To help prepare for BC’s path ahead, here’s a brief guide on the 18-team bracket.

Three Title Contenders

North Carolina (1): Quite simply, this is the Tar Heels’ championship to lose. Reigning national champion UNC won its 42nd straight game on Sunday, beating the Eagles in the ACC title game, 3-1. The Tar Heels are second in the country in scoring (3.86 goals per game), with the dynamic Erin Matson leading the way. They also boast the third-best defense (1.0 goals allowed per game). Exceptionally balanced, UNC is primed for its eighth title, which would move it into a tie for second all-time.

Connecticut (2): Last year’s final was between top-seeded UNC and No. 2 Maryland, so who’s to say that it won’t be a chalky bracket once again. The Huskies are similarly balanced—potentially even more so—as the Tar Heels and rank third nationally in scoring offense and first in defense behind goaltender Cheyenne Sprecher. They’ve also won eight of nine, with the lone loss coming in a shootout against Syracuse, so they’re one of many teams streaking into the tournament.

Maryland: In two of the last three National Championships, at least one of the participants hasn’t been one of the four national seeds. So, the top team outside of UNC, UConn, Virginia, and Louisville is arguably the Terrapins, who lost last year’s national title. Maryland reloaded well, going 16-3 but faltering against Penn State in the Big Ten semifinals. The Terrapins have a stingy defense, ranked second nationally in allowing just 17 goals in 19 games, and are ninth in scoring as well.

Three Dark Horses

Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks don’t have an easy first-round draw, facing No. 2 Maryland, but Saint Joseph’s has quietly been one of the best teams this season. The Hawks lead the nation in scoring, averaging 3.95 goals per game, and have a formidable duo of Tonya Botherway (16 goals) and Jordan Olenginski (11 goals). No. 1 UNC needed double overtime to beat them in their regular season finale, too, and they’ve gone 17-3 with all three losses by a single goal against a ranked opponent.

Boston College: To advance, the Eagles will have to avenge a loss earlier this year to Northwestern, but they have the pieces right now to make a run in the bracket. One of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch, BC has won nine of its last 11, with both losses coming to the top-ranked Tar Heels. Goaltender Sarah Dwyer is second nationally in goals against average (0.88), Fusine Govaert has demonstrated an ability to provide scoring in the biggest of moments, and Margo Carlin and Sky Caron are a pair of impressive underclassmen.

Duke: Yes, the Blue Devils went 1-5 in conference play and exited in the first round of the ACC Tournament. This team shouldn’t be taken lightly, though. Save for a 2-0 loss to the Tar Heels, Duke has lost all six of its games—each against top-20 opponents—by one goal and three of those were in overtime. The Blue Devils struggle to score on occasion, but boast the nation’s fifth-best defense and have the potential to make any tournament game interesting.

Three Top Players

Erin Matson, F, UNC: Last year, Matson paved the way for a Tar Heels title as she led the team in goals (20) and assists (19). But she’s taken her game to the next level in 2019, leading the country in both goals per game and assists per game. In just 16 contests, Matson has 24 goals and 15 assists, well ahead of her totals from last season, which spanned 23 games.

Cheyenne Sprecher, G, UConn: Sprecher has played 1,258 of 1,283 possible minutes for the Huskies in the cage this year, and she’s been nothing short of dominant. A redshirt sophomore, Sprecher was named the Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year after posting a nation-best 0.71 goals against average. She strung together back-to-back shutouts in the conference tournament and saved 85.4 percent of shots on the year (also best in the country).

Bente Baekers, F, Northwestern: Baekers sat out her first year in Evanston with an injury and she’s returned better than ever. The redshirt freshman from the Netherlands took the Big Ten by storm this year, racking up 27 goals and three assists as the team’s go-to option. Bakers has posted multiple goals in four of her last six games and collected Freshman of the Year honors with ease. Her ability to capitalize on opportunities will be a determining factor in whether or not the Wildcats are able to make a run. 

Three First-Round Matchups to Watch

Virginia vs. Delaware, Friday, 12 p.m. The Cavaliers are the third national seed, but face a stiff test right off the bat. Delaware isn’t anything to look past as it won eight straight to close the year, winning the CAA Championship with ease. It’ll be a matchup of strength vs. strength, as the Blue Hens rank 12th nationally with 2.84 goals per game while UVA is sixth in goals against average.

Maryland vs. Saint Joseph’s, Friday, 2:30 p.m. The Terrapins’ run to another championship appearance starts with an exceptionally tough Hawks side. As touched on above, Saint Joseph’s is one of the more dangerous teams in the field, featuring a prolific offense that can keep pace with practically anybody. Maryland has more experience, but, regardless, this first-round matchup could spark a prolonged tournament run for the winner.

Duke vs. Iowa, Friday, 2:30 p.m. Duke will look to finally come out on the right side of a big game—the Blue Devils have come close so many times this season—while the Hawkeyes enter with plenty of confidence. Iowa has won five straight, and that stretch includes wins over tourney teams in Northwestern and Michigan. This is a big ACC-Big Ten matchup and should be an entertaining defensive battle between a pair of top-10 defenses.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff

November 13, 2019