Strangely, the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, in part, will be played at the home of the Nittany Lions, but the Penn State field hockey team will not be playing. They neither won the Big Ten title or received an at large bid following the end of the season conference tournaments. Instead, it will be the nearby Bison of Bucknell who will take the short bus trip to meet VCU, who also won their conference title for the first time by beating St Joseph’s 2-0 in the championship game.
Bucknell’s season was one of recovery, after losing 3 games in row and facing virtual elimination, came back to beat American in overtime and finishing their 3 game sweep with a 3-2 victory over Lafayette. They had to wait a week and a half to play their next game, which turned out to be second seed American. The first seed, Boston was to play 4 seed Holy Cross. Boston got in after not playing a full slate of opponents and had perhaps the weakest schedule in the Patriot League.
In both Patriot League tournament games, Bucknell was to play a patient defensive games using virtually their entire bench. They used 10 bench players in the double overtime win/shootout game with American, aided by 8 saves by Clara McCormick who I believe is the best GK in league at the moment. In addition they earned 12 penalty corners.
In the championship game with Boston they used nine subs, compared two for Boston, and got 15 shots compared to 6 for Boston. In addition, Boston had their two GK’s sidelined and were forced to use a little experienced M/D, who never played in the goal before. They lost several players due to covid protocols as well, and realized only minutes before the game that they were to have no experienced goal keepers. Jeremy Cook correctly surmised, this would be a game of attrition, which was executed perfectly by his team to get the overtime victory at 7:29 into the period.
The VCU game is interesting for its parallels. Its the first time both team have won their conferences. Ironically, VCU only used two subs in it’s 2-0 victory over St Joe’s. In the meantime, their GK, Sasha Elliot had a good outing with 5 saves. VCU’s best win was a win early against ODU, only getting five shots to ODU’s eighteen.
I kind of like Bucknell in this game, but I have no common opponents to judge them by. Clara McCormick is the real deal, and Bucknell earns corners aplenty. The game is at noon Friday and the winner gets to play Michigan on Sunday.
Northwestern, Iowa and Louisville got the at large bids leaving a lot of very good teams watching on their computers!! Crazy year!!