Field Hockey Makes History
“It’s a natural high, knowing we made history,” beamed first-year Holly Sloofman when asked about the past week’s events.
It has been a memorable week for the Oberlin College field hockey team, who have now written themselves into the record books. Having realized what was once only a dream, the Yeowomen are enjoying every second of their first-ever NCAA experience.
After this history-making defeat of Wooster 3-0 on Nov. 5 in the NCAC Conference Tournament Championships, they squeezed out a 1-0 victory against 12th ranked Lebanon Valley College, taking them to the second round of the national tournament.
Bit by bit Oberlin has been picking teams off with determination, teamwork and a desire to win. Whether it is the most fluid play a spectator has ever seen or just tough, gritty, hard-nosed work, the field hockey team has been getting the job done. Individuals have stood out, but the team would not have come this far if it weren’t for their team effort. From nail-biting clutch saves by sophomore goalie Lauren Malinowski and solid defensive work from the backline to quick counter-attacking play from the midfield and forwards, the Yeowomen have effective field hockey down to an art form.
The path that has led them to this Saturday’s showdown with Salisbury, the number one team in the nation and back-to-back defending national champions, started with a 7-2 conference record that resulted in their capture of the regular season title. Oberlin turned it up a notch once postseason struck, defeating Denison 4-2 in the semifinal match and sending themselves to the finals with Wooster, a team they barely defeated in strokes a couple games back.
With a school record on the line and an NCAA berth staring them in the eyes, Oberlin remained calm and stood their ground, taking the game to the Fighting Scots.
“We knew we could definitely beat them,” said Sloofman. “There still was some nervous energy, though. In the past we underestimated teams and didn’t play to our potential, so we were really focused.”
Oberlin started the game off with a bang, with first-year Lela Hull scoring just three minutes in and the team outshooting Wooster 9-0 in the first half. Senior co-captain Rosemary Mudry scored penalty shots on both sides of the halftime mark, securing the historical win. Malinowski was barely troubled, as she only had to make three saves. After the game, the Yeowomen received the school’s first NCAC championship trophy and Mudry was named tournament MVP.
Word spread fast of Oberlin’s field hockey success and its first-ever NCAA appearance. During a time when it would have been easy for a team such as Oberlin to be satisfied with reaching this landmark, Oberlin again showed their desire to win against Lebanon on Wednesday, a desire which has been evident throughout the year.
The Yeowomen knew that nationally-ranked Lebanon would pose a much greater threat than Wooster, which was exhibited early on with Lebanon spending the greater part of the first ten minutes in the Oberlin half of the field. Although they outshot Oberlin 9-7 in the first half, forcing Malinowski to make six of her 13 fantastic saves, Oberlin ended the half with the last laugh after a blazing goal produced by senior Christine Castilla.
The goal only forced Lebanon to come out harder in the second half, putting the pressure on the Oberlin defense. When it mattered most, the senior backline and Malinowski responded with some excellent defensive play.
Malinowski pointed the recent defensive ferocity to their extra work in practice and “excellent communication and teamwork. The last couple of practices, there was lots of defensive work. We focused on the defense taking the opposing players and the goalies taking the ball on breakaways.”
The extra practice paid off as Lebanon had several crucial breakaways stopped by a diving Malinowski. When asked what her secret was to make so many crucial saves, she stated, “I love the thrill of the close game and the intense pressure. I loved the whole team’s performance under such tight conditions.”
Although the goalie made most of the stops, others contributed their share. Junior Sam Kryskostas and sophomore Kaitlin Barrer both blocked shots off the goal line, preserving the lead. The Yeowomen were pushed to the limit in the second half, but they came out victorious.
A sense of excitement and confidence now runs through the team. Besides playing such a perennial power, Malinowski is “really looking forward to another long bus ride with the team” and believes if they play with the same determination as in the game against Lebanon, then “Saturday will be sweet.”
This memorable season continues for the Yeowomen on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 10 a.m. in Maryland against Salisbury. Hopes are high and, as any avid sports fan knows, rankings can be deceiving. Although Malinowski and the team will be looking for the win, Oberlin’s goalie is optimistic no matter what happens.
“Since we’ve made it so far, whenever our season ends we will not
be sad because of the progress we’ve made and how far we’ve
come,” she said. “Athletics-wise, no one respects Oberlin, so just
the fact we’re winning is amazing. It feels great to make history.”