MHC Hosts National Field Hockey Championship

Posted: November 23, 2009

High drama was the order of the day on a balmy Sunday afternoon in November when the National Collegiate Athletic Association was on campus for the Division III women’s field hockey championship game. The previous day’s semifinals had set up an epic contest between the Falcons of Messiah College and the Sea Gulls of Salisbury University. The former had been to the championship game six times previously and lost every time. The latter had a perfect 4-0 record in the season finale. The former was undefeated this year. The latter had lost once, and that was to the team they were about to play. It was a revenge match for both squads.

“It ‘ain’t’ ever going to get better than this,” Barbara Cassani ’82 had told members of the final four teams at a banquet Friday night, November 20. A highly accomplished businesswoman who chaired London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics, Cassani gave the keynote address to kick off a weekend for the record books. “You are now amongst equals,” she told the assembled athletes, as she regaled them with anecdotes about taking up what was considered a “no hoper,” in her quest for Olympic glory. Paris was the odds-on favorite to host the games, but Cassani had other ideas that ended up prevailing.

Attracting the crowning event of the NCAA Division III women’s field hockey season to South Hadley was a dream of athletics director Laurie Priest. “We’re so excited to be hosting the national championship because it really enables us to showcase our campus and our wonderful facilities,” she said. Central to the competitive bid the College made to the NCAA was a proposal to involve students in the planning and execution of the games at every level. “We wanted this championship to be driven by students, for students,” said Priest.

The guest of honor at the opening game was State Representative John Scibak, who lives in South Hadley and also represents Hadley and Easthampton. He conducted the first coin toss of the tournament. “It’s not every day that you get to host a national championship,” Scibak said. “Mount Holyoke is an integral part of the community, so when I learned about the event I decided to learn as much as I could and help in any way that I can.” He cited the immediate economic benefits of attracting players, their families, and fans to the area as well as the long-term benefits of introducing people to the Pioneer Valley.

On Friday afternoon Scibak joined the teams, two from Pennsylvania, one from Maryland, and one from eastern Massachusetts, at a field hockey clinic they conducted at the Mosier Elementary School in South Hadley. “The kids had a wonderful time, they were enthusiastic, there was a lot of noise, they were very attentive,” he said.

Kiki Boyles ‘12, who is double majoring in history and politics, served as master of ceremonies for the Friday night banquet. She was also the vice chair of Mount Holyoke’s Field Hockey Organizing Committee, a student-powered group that led the 14 committees that arranged every aspect of the weekend. In addition to relishing the excitement of being at the heart of a national sporting event, Boyles was thrilled about the learning experience. “These are skills we are going to need later in life,” she said. “There is no field you can go into where you won’t need some kind of event management skill and the ability to work out logistics.”

The hard work and meticulous planning of the committee paid off. Brian Williams, chair of the NCAA Division III field hockey committee, brimmed with enthusiasm about his interactions with the College. “Everyone is so friendly, and that just gets you so excited about doing a better job than you are already trying to do,” he said. The student involvement in organizing the event “made it special for everybody involved,” said Williams. “You look around from security to tickets to emceeing the banquet, it’s all student- and student-athlete-related, and that’s what it’s all about.”

MHC Alumnae Association president Cynthia Reed ’80 attended the semifinals and the final as well as an all-star game Sunday morning featuring players from more than two dozen schools including Mount Holyoke’s own Mary Kate Switchenko ’10, who plays forward. The Alumnae Association sponsored a tent at the event, Reed said, because of the importance of sports in sustaining connections. “When you look at people’s interests and their networking over a lifetime, often women leave Mount Holyoke and they have friends for life from whatever sports they played, so it’s a way to self-identify,” Reed said.

Outgoing Mount Holyoke President Joanne V. Creighton performed the coin toss for the final game. She also spoke at the banquet of the strides women have made in sports. “Now, with more than 20 sanctioned sports, the NCAA provides opportunities for women athletes which your grandmothers could never have dreamed of,” she said. “And field hockey surely embodies the best of women’s athletics.”

Messiah was the sentimental favorite for many of the locals, including Scibak, going into Sunday’s final game. They had fought back from a 2-0 halftime deficit against Ursinus College--the team that had beaten them in the 2006 championship game--on Saturday. Coach Jan Trapp has been in the position for 37 years and though she had been to the final game six times previously, the winner’s trophy eluded her every time. Her nemesis on this day was Dawn Chamberlin who, as the Salisbury coach for 23 years, brought home three consecutive championships starting in 2003. The last, in 2005, was against Messiah. On Saturday, Salisbury shut out Tufts University 1-0 in the semifinals.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, the Sea Gulls scored early on Sunday, November 22, with only three minutes and 33 seconds elapsed. They never looked back and became the first team in NCAA Division III women’s field hockey history to win shutouts in both the semifinal and the final.

The 1-0 loss, Trapp’s seventh in as many appearances in the championship game, stung. This was not to be the year her team would reverse the curse. “It really hurts, it does, that’s all I can say,” Trapp told assembled journalists at a press conference following the game.

She and her team might take heart from Barbara Cassani’s remarks at the Friday night reception. “The politically correct world we live in says, ‘everyone’s a winner.’ But you know three will lose and one will win. But they will go through their lives and have grown enormously from the opportunity to get to a championship like this and to have a go.”

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