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Nov. 15, 2021 — A few thoughts on three levels of collegiate hockey

This past weekend, ten tickets were punched to the NCAA Division I, II, and III Final Fours for field hockey. Our warm takes on these tournaments aren’t quite as “hot” as they would have been yesterday, but it’s worth it to keep calm and let one’s thoughts simmer for a minute or two.


Three years ago, NESCAC rivals Middlebury and Tufts met each other at Spooky Nook — the only known NCAA game to be played indoors — in the Division III final. But this year, the two teams were in the same quarter of the bracket, meaning that these rivals would be playing in the national quarterfinal round. Middlebury beat Tufts 2-0, which follows on the Panthers’ 2-1 OT win on October 10th.


Two teams from the New Jersey Athletic Conference made the field for the 2021 Division III championship. But the The College of New Jersey was not one of them. The program has been at or near championship level every year since 1981, making the tournament every year except for four occasions.

Instead, other NJAC teams have picked up the torch. Rowan University has earned its way into the Division III semifinal round. The Profs are an interesting story, in that the team’s three leading goal scorers were deathly rivals in high school. Leading scorer Julia Patrone is from a family of field hockey players from Sewell Washington Township (Pa.), and Patrone also played two seasons at Cherry Hill Camden Catholic (N.J.). The two players tied for second in goals are Kristiina Castagnola and Krystyna Hovel, both from rival Voorhees Eastern (N.J.). Credit the Rowan coaching staff for getting the players to put aside their histories and work towards team goals.


In Division II, East Stroudsburg made its fourth consecutive national semifinal with a 2-1 win over Bentley. The Warriors have made every Division II tournament on offer since winning the national championship in 2015, and are looking to try to maintain that consistency this Friday against Shippensburg, which was a three-time champion between 2016-18.


Division I’s field hockey results yesterday saw out the four top seeds in the tournament, something that has happened only twice in D-1 tournament history. The results also saw out every team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which was the top field hockey conference for most of the last 20 years. Instead, the bracket now has Northwestern and Maryland from the Big Ten, Liberty from the Big East, and Harvard for the Ivy League.


Liberty University’s field hockey team has been in the headwaters of conversation when it comes to contenders for national honors ever since losing by one goal to a highly-ranked UNC side in the 2014 tournament. But ever since, the Flames have been on the outside looking in when it comes to Selection Sunday. There were a couple of years when Liberty missed out on selection to the field by thousandths of a point when you grade out either Ratings Percentage Index or strength of schedule. Liberty, with a shootout win over Rutgers, takes on Maryland in Friday’s national semifinal.


Liberty has an interesting story within its ranks: the Dykema family. These players never played a minute of scholastic field hockey, but were homeschooled and played their club field hockey with Scotty Tyson’s Saints club. Ashley Dykema is a fifth-year senior, Bethany Dykema is a junior, and Emily Dykema is a sophomore.

There is a kicker in this story that cannot be said about any of the large families that have sent field hockey players to the next level. In addition to the three Dykema systers, their younger brother Corey is a practice player for the Flames as well as a member of the U.S. junior men’s national team.


Northwestern University has been a hidden bastion of women’s sports the last 20 years. While the women’s lacrosse team has won seven national titles since 2005, the school has seen other recent successes. The women’s basketball team tied its record for wins in 2019-2020 before seeing its season end due to the global pandemic. The softball team came in second at the 2006 College World Series.

But with some dramatic goals over the weekend on Iowa’s home ground, the Wildcats have made the Final Four for the first time in 27 years. Friday afternoon, Northwestern ensured that there would be a new national title-holder with a win over three-time defending champion North Carolina. The capper on the win was a golazo by Maddie Zimmer in the final minutes of play. Sure, it was against a UNC defense playing without a goalie, but it was all to do for the U.S. national team selectee, who pinged it in from the tightest of angles.

Two days later, the Wildcats played host Iowa, and Lauren Wadas punched in a goal that somehow evaded five Iowa players. Wadas (Palmyra, Pa.) played her school hockey less than two miles from where Zimmer (Hershey, Pa.) played hers.


Finally, a word on the streaming coverage of the Division I octo- and quarter-final rounds.

“Awful.”

In an era when the NCAA has literally been caught committing acts of inequality on social media, the field hockey “coverage” has been nothing short of outrageous. The quarterfinals should be staggered to give each of them their own broadcast window. Full announce crews were not hired for the four sites. And the first several minutes of the Friday games at Rutgers were broadcast from two “eye in the sky” cameras at both ends of the pitch, a highly unorthodox treatment of the game.


We learned later that the problems were on the part of weather, which wreaked absolute havoc at several sites during the postseason — at Iowa, Michigan, Syracuse, and Piscataway.

Perhaps it’s time for the NCAA Tournament Committee to spend some of the billions of dollars afforded the football and basketball teams to migrate these tournament sites to more temperate areas.

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