Field hockey powerhouse Middlebury College traveled to Middletown this Sunday for a NESCAC match. Though Wesleyan gained a 1-0 lead in the first half, the Panthers proved too strong, scoring two in the second half, for a final score of 2-1. This was Middlebury’s eighth consecutive win dating back to last season, including a win over Wesleyan in the first round of last year’s NESCAC playoffs.

Wesleyan came out strong in the first half, keeping the Panthers on their heels and putting pressure on their defense. Most of the play was in the middle of the field as both squads battled for prolonged offensive possession.

“I don’t think that Middlebury was expecting us to be as intense and aggressive as we were in the first half. They were definitely not prepared for us,” said co-captain and starting defender Tory Whitney ’08.

The game remained scoreless until the final minute of the opening half. With just 52 seconds remaining, Wesleyan freshman Jamie Thabault – who leads the team in shots-on-goal – received a pass from fellow frosh Nat Galgano, finally putting one past the Middlebury goalie, to score her first collegiate goal.

“It felt great to score my first goal and even better to put Middlebury on their heels. They are a strong team and we really wanted to prove that we were just as good, which we did when we scored first to take the lead,” said Thabault.

“This goal has been a long time coming for Jamie. She literally had nine shots last week against Salve Regina so we were really happy that she finally got the point she deserved,” added co-captain Adrienne Shea ’08.

The momentum from Thabault’s goal was quickly lost, however, and the Cardinals spent the second half of the game on the defensive. Middlebury changed their game plan during the break, adjusting to Wesleyan’s success at defending the long ball. The new plan worked, and the Panthers managed to pack their whole team in Wesleyan’s half of the field, resulting in many offensive chances. They were unable to set up another formidable offensive threat for any extended period of time, the Cardinals managed only one shot in the half.

“The second half was very defensive [for us. Middlebury] was able to move the ball well and maintained pressure throughout the entire 35 minutes. There was a lot of pressure on the net and they got a lot of shots off,” said Molly O’Connell ’09, who plays defense.

Middlebury finally got past Wesleyan goaltender Breen McDonald ’10 for their first goal, tying the game off of a penalty corner. The Panthers hit the ball to the top of the circle, where a few attackers got touches before the ball finally entered the net off of a deflection by Marnie Rowe.

The Panthers scored the winning goal in the last five minutes off another penalty corner. Dana Heritage fed the ball into the crease, where teammate Heather McCormack got a clean hit, putting the ball past McDonald for her third goal of the season.

“We knew going into the game that Middlebury is extremely effective on penalty corners and so we tried to limit their chances. Unfortunately they were able to get two by us,” said O’Connell.

“It was really positive to see our defense play so well. Middlebury only scored when they had a man-up advantage. We definitely prevented some would-be goals. Middlebury was strong, but we know we can beat them and hopefully we will get a chance to see them again in the tournament,” said Whitney.

Although they lost, the Cards played very well and kept the match close against a very strong Middlebury team, who is now 4-1 (2-1 NESCAC). Wesleyan has had their share of close matches this year. Sunday’s game was the fourth consecutive game decided by one goal. While it was disappointing to give up the lead and eventually the game, many players felt positive about the team’s play.

“This was the best game that I have ever seen us play against Middlebury. They are consistently one of the best teams in the league and it felt good to play them so tightly. While it is frustrating that we don’t have many wins to show for our hard work, those will definitely come if we keep up this level of play,” said Shea.

“Sunday’s game was a great game and one of the best we have played all year. Even though it didn’t end with the win we wanted, everyone left all they had on the field and we are definitely proud of how we played,” added Thabault.

The Cardinals will face non-NESCAC opponent Wheaton College this Wednesday. The Crusaders surprised Wesleyan last year with a 2-1 win. However, if Wesleyan continues to play with the speed and intensity that they showed on Sunday, they should come away with an important win, giving them momentum for another NESCAC weekend.

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