Last but not least, below is a recap of last season's Division III as well as a prediction on who will finish at the top this upcoming year.
Over in Division III, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) stole the show in 2021. They finished off the regular season with seven ranked teams in the Penn Monto/NFHCA Division III Coaches Poll, had four teams with appearances in the NCAA tournament and topped it off with a National Champion. It’ll definitely be a conference to watch again this season.
Middlebury dominated the competition all throughout the NCAA Tournament, defeating Rowan and Johns Hopkins by identical 4-1 score lines in the Semifinals and National Championship. With a perfect 22-0 season, the Panthers clinched their fourth straight title. It would be a surprise not to see them reach great heights again, with the NFHCA Division III National Coaching Staff of the Year and returning players such as First Team All-American Katie George (Jr.), despite missing standout Erin Nicholas.
Ranked No. 19 in the Penn Monto/NFHCA Division III Coaches Poll during preseason last year, Trinity gave fans a run for their money when they entered the NCAA Tournament and advanced all the way to the Semifinal. Despite a bumpy 15-6 season, the Bantams performed when needed, winning three rounds in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Johns Hopkins by a single goal in the Semifinal. That lone goal was the only one that goalkeeper Olivia McMichael (Jr.) and the defensive line let up for the entire tournament, and it ended their postseason run. Trinity could be a wildcard this year and it’ll be fun to see how the Bantams progress from last season.
Last season, Tufts felt a familiar sting when it fell to Middlebury, 2-0, in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The Jumbos had lost to Middlebury by an identical score line in the 2018 championship. Tufts ended its season 15-5, relying heavily on senior leadership from players like Claire Foley, Gillian Rocea, Sophie Schoeni and Marin Waddington. But with some expert recruiting and training from head coach Tina Mattera, Tufts can retain this momentum into the 2022 season.
Bowdoin showed off with a 16-5 record, falling to the runner-up Johns Hopkins, 3-2, in the fourth round of the NCAA Tournament. The Polar Bears will see the return of both a leader in the offense and First Team All-American Faith Jennings (Jr.) and defensive leader Georgie Coetzer (Jr.).
Outside of the NESCAC, Johns Hopkins had a dominating performance last season. The Blue Jays were on a 22-game win streak that was only broken when they lost to Middlebury in the NCAA Final. To get there, Johns Hopkins beat ranked teams in Trinity and Bowdoin. Hopkins has now won three straight Centennial Conference titles, which is not too shabby for a conference that includes strong opponents like Ursinus and Franklin and Marshall. Hopkins loses three powerhouse seniors from last season, but its recent consistency and strong performance would sway one to believe it will contend again this year.
Over in New Jersey, there are the consistently strong teams like Rowan, Kean and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Rowan made it all the way to the NCAA Semifinals last year, with two of their three losses being to the eventual tournament champion and runner-up. Rowan has been in the postseason tournament for the past three years and have returners including Kristiina Castagnola, who will be using her final year of eligibility as a graduate student. Since transferring to Rowan in 2017, Castagnola has had a prolific career, garnering accolades such as NFHCA All-American First Team, Region IV Player of the Year and NJAC Midfielder of the Year. The team’s leading scorer in 2021, Julia Patrone, was only a freshman and has plenty of time to continue to make her mark.
Despite losing to Rowan in overtime in the conference tournament, Kean had enough to show they deserved a bid to the NCAA Tournament; only to be knocked out by Trinity in the first round. The Cougars went 19-3, losing twice by a goal apiece to Rowan, and put up a fight against the Bantams in the postseason.
As for TCNJ, who often make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the 2021 season fell short of expectations. If the team gets a spark of new talent and rising leaders like Jess Hatch (Sr.) to continue to perform, perhaps the Lions can reel it back in for the 2022 season.
The champions of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), Babson, had an impressive 21-2 season and postseason run. The Beavers fell to Trinity in the Semifinals, accruing just their second loss of the year. Babson worked an efficient offense throughout the season, spreading out goals among forwards and midfielders. This more systematic style of play should allow the Beavers to once again be successful in the upcoming season.
Ultimately, who knows what will happen in the 2022 college field hockey season. Will there be another Liberty, who ended Connecticut’s eight-year reign over the Big East and went to the national title game? Or will perennial powers throughout the divisions like North Carolina, Shippensburg and Middlebury continue to stock their trophy cabinets? As in any season, there will be upsets, underdogs, dynasties, and most of all - good hockey. Can’t wait to watch!
Photos courtesy of Frank Poulin, Tufts Athletics, Johns Hopkins Athletics, Kean Athletics, Babson Athletics