At 16-1 entering today's NCAC semifinal with Wittenberg, the 2011 season had been kind to the Big Red field hockey team. The year began with a school-record nine-game winning streak and following a mid-season, overtime loss to DePauw, DU rebounded with a win over the Tigers in the regular season finale last Saturday.
One particular area that hasn't been so kind to Denison over the years is the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament. In six previous appearances in the tournament that began in 2001, Denison was 0-6. In fact, today's semifinal against Wittenberg marked the first time since 2002 that the Big Red were granted a home game, which is awarded annually to the two top seeds in the tournament.
In this season of firsts, 20th ranked Denison broke through with a 2-0 victory over Wittenberg, setting up a rematch with DePauw on Saturday (Nov. 5) at 12 p.m. at Deeds Field-Piper Stadium for the NCAC Tournament championship and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The two teams played the first 52 minutes to a scoreless tie, but the Big Red were turning up the heat offensively and the penalty corner attempts piled up faster than rush hour traffic on the Dan Ryan. In the second half, after a penalty corner was played in by Caroline Kasper, Denison's Catie Merrick gathered the ball and found Wittenberg goalie Jenny Schaafsma caught five yards in front of the goal. Noticing the empty cage, Merrick quickly sent a shot to the right that just missed the corner of the goal.
Ten minutes later a similar situation would occur but this time it was Katie McMahon who got a step on the Tiger defense, forcing a Wittenberg defender and Schaafsma leave the goal and dive in order to stop her shot attempt. Schaafsma recorded the save but the defender was whistled for body obstruction and the Big Red was awarded a penalty stroke with 17 minutes to play in regulation.
Senior defender Kelsey Flowers attempted her first penalty stroke of her career and buried it in the back of the cage, giving Denison the 1-0 lead. Prior to the conversion by Flowers, Schaafsma had stopped all four previous penalty strokes attempted against her in 2011.
Denison went back to work on offense following the goal and in the 60th minute, sophomore Karla Dixon sent a crossing pass to Merrick who took the pass and then sent another shot to the wide side of the cage. This time the ball snuck in, giving DU a 2-0 advantage.
Over the final 10 minutes of play Denison would hold Wittenberg to one shot attempt, resulting in the 2-0 victory. The Big Red outshot Wittenberg 27-4 while tying a school record, set in 2002, with 23 penalty corner attempts. DU's barrage of penalty corners kept Schaafsma busy and the senior finished with 12 saves. Also helping out defensively for Wittenberg was Jenny Pampreen and Mallory Skrobot who each turned in one defensive save.
Junior goalie Brittany Benson posted one save in 70 minutes while earning her 10th shutout of the season. Benson is just two shutouts shy of tying the school's single-season record for shutouts set by Elise Ludwig in 1999.
This marks Denison's first appearance in the NCAC Tournament Championship and it will also be a first-time appearance for DePauw who is in their first season as a member of the conference. DePauw advanced to the championship match by defeating Wooster, 4-1 in Greencastle, Ind. The championship between Denison (17-1) and DePauw (16-2) will begin at 12 p.m. Live video will be provided by the Denison Sports Network along with live statistics.