HOPKINSSPORTS.COM The Jays won the regular season Conference Championship on Saturday.
The stakes were high in the face-off between Hopkins and the 13th-ranked Franklin & Marshall College Diplomats this weekend as the winning team would secure first place in the Centennial Conference and home-field advantage for the entirety of the Conference Playoffs.
The first half of the matchup was dominated by the defense on both sides. The Jays ended the half with three saves and the Diplomats with two. As neither team scored in the first half, the Conference title would be decided in the last 35 minutes of the regular season play.
Eighteen minutes into the second half, the Diplomats capitalized on a penalty corner. Forward Emily Nagle passed the ball into midfielder Annie Horsley, who rifled a shot into the lower corner of the goal to put the Diplomats up 1-0.
While the F&M defense remained stout for the majority of the second half, the Jays chipped away, finding more and more opportunities to score as the game weaned on. While the Jays managed only two shots in the first half, they saw 11 shots in the second.
One of those shots came with only four minutes remaining on the clock, as senior forward Morgan Pothast weaved through a series of Diplomat defenders before crossing a pass to fellow senior forward Princess Sutherland directly in front of the goal. Sutherland scored easily to tie the game at one a piece.
Nevertheless, the Jays were not done yet. With just over a minute left to play, the Jays were awarded a penalty corner, which was taken by senior forward Clare Kavanagh. Kavanagh passed to Sutherland, who shot at the F&M goal but was blocked by the Diplomats’ goalie Ilianna Santangelo. However, the rebound then went straight to Kavanagh, who flipped a shot past Santangelo to put Hopkins up with only 59 seconds remaining in the game. In just four minutes, the game did a complete 180.
The last minute of play was nerve-wracking for the Jays, but the approach was simple: Play 59 seconds of defense, and the Conference Championship would be theirs for the first time since 2000. The Jays managed to hold off the Diplomats and won the game by a final score of 2-1.
Kavanagh discussed the team’s philosophy.
“Our team has developed a tradition of grit all over the field, specifically our recovery defense and persistence in the play was instrumental to our win,” Kavanagh said.
The win cemented a historic season for the Jays, which was made even more impressive by the fact that they were led by first-year Head Coach Jane Wells. Hopkins ends the season at 13-3, which is the team’s best record since 1999.
“Jane [Wells] has consistently structured practice with technical drills that expand into larger tactical drills, and the flow of practices have been seamless,” Kavanagh said. “One game we play regularly is actually a four-minute full-field scrimmage with the assumption that one team is down a goal.”
That drill ended up being the exact situation the Jays found themselves in on Saturday against the Diplomats. This kind of preparedness is what allowed Hopkins to come from behind and win against a nationally ranked team.
The great performance by both Kavanagh and the Jays earned Kavanagh the Centennial Conference Offensive player of the week award for this week. It is the first time in her career she has won the award.
While all the accomplishments this team has achieved are very impressive, the Blue Jays know that their job is not done yet. They still have the Conference Tournament left to play, which will be anything but a cakewalk considering the numerous strong teams in the Centennial Conference.
“Moving forward, we are dedicated to consciously improving every day. We have to outwork every team this week because the Centennial Conference is so competitive,” Kavanagh said.
Fortunately for the Jays, their two biggest opponents in the Conference, Franklin & Marshall and the Ursinus College Bears, will be facing each other in the semifinals of the Conference Tournament. The Jays will face the winner of the Haverford College and Washington College matchup in their semifinal game.
Ursinus was the only Conference team to beat Hopkins during the regular season. However, with their increased confidence as well as their home-field advantage, the Blue Jays will be the favorites to win the Conference and punch their tickets to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
Hopkins will play their semifinal game Friday, Nov. 3 at 12:30 p.m. on Homewood Field against the Fords of Haverford College.