Since joining the ACC, Boston College field hockey has made six NCAA Tournament appearances, most notably a string of four straight prior to the 2017 season, despite never having won more than three conference games in a single year. This fall, the Eagles’ (11-8, 0-6 Atlantic Coast) ACC struggles finally caught up to them.
Head Coach Kelly Doton’s team got off to an incredible start, winning its first four games of the season. What’s even more impressive is that three of those opponents were ranked inside the Top 20, including Northwestern and Maryland—one of the most prestigious programs in the country. With three marquee wins under their belt, two of which came in double overtime, it appeared as if BC was finally primed for a breakthrough ACC slate.
Turns out, the 4-0 start was nothing more than a tease for the Eagles faithful. On Sept. 8, BC hosted Syracuse to kick off conference play and was promptly greeted with its first loss of the season—not a nail-biting defeat, but a six-goal blowout. Granted the Orange were ranked No. 5 in the nation at the time, the massacre was still a tough pill for Doton and Co. to swallow. It only took Syracuse seven minutes to find the back of the cage. It was just the beginning of a four-goal first half that practically put the game out of reach.
After getting punched in the mouth by the Orange, BC picked up right where it left off in non-conference competition, rolling over Providence, 4-0. The win slightly repaired the Eagles’ goal differential and, more importantly, bumped them up to the No. 10 spot in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll. If BC held on to beat North Carolina six days later, it would have probably continued to climb the rankings. Instead, the Eagles caved, giving up the game-tying goal in the 61st minute and another in overtime to drop to 0-2 against conference opponents.
BC continued to swap non-conference victories for ACC losses, digging a deep hole in the conference standings. When playing teams like William & Mary, Pacific, and New Hampshire, the Eagles’ offense—led by Alesandra Miller, Fusine Govaert, and Lucy Lytle—looked like one of the best units in the NCAA. Yet, in ACC play, those same players were almost unrecognizable. In fact, versus non-conference opponents, BC averaged three scoring plays per contest and racked up four-plus goals on four separate occasions. Up against the ACC, the Eagles posted a mere 0.86 goals per game and were shut out three times. To break that down even further, BC totaled just six goals against conference foes, four of which were scored against Duke.
Having already lost its third conference match of the year to Virginia, BC—then 7-3 (0-3 Atlantic Coast)—came the closest it would all season to beating a high-profile ACC opponent on Sept. 29. The Eagles pushed Duke, at the time the No. 2 team in the country, to the brink of its second defeat of the 2017 campaign.
The teams exchanged goals during the opening 10 minutes of the first half. But right before intermission, the Blue Devils scored off a corner to tip the scale. BC fought back, logging more than one goal in an ACC contest for the first time all year. Chelcie Mendonca centered a long ball, putting Miller in the perfect position for the equalizing score. Neither team found the back of the cage during the two allotted overtime periods, setting the stage for the Eagles’ first shootout of the season. After trading four successful attempts, Duke slid the ball by Dwyer, and Brooke Matherson watched Blue Devils goaltender Sammi Steele stop her shot short of the goal line, marking BC’s fourth ACC loss of the year.
Right on cue, the Eagles bounced back to win four-consecutive non-conference games—the final three of which were separated by a 4-1 meltdown against Louisville—sweeping the likes of Harvard, Northeastern, and Boston University. In doing so, BC earned bragging rights in the Boston area and simply lengthened its stay in the NFHCA poll’s Top 10.
The three-game win streak didn’t do the Eagles any favors in Winston-Salem, N.C. or Storrs, Conn. for that matter. BC suffered back-to-back 3-0 road losses to Wake Forest and Connecticut to cap off the regular season, limping into the ACC Tournament with a 0-6 conference mark. To put that record into perspective, no other ACC team won fewer than two conference games in 2017. It was also BC’s first winless ACC season in program history.
As a result, the Eagles entered the conference tournament as the seventh seed, paired with Duke in the right side of the bracket. Even though the Blue Devils were far superior on paper, BC couldn’t have asked for a better matchup. There was something about Doton’s squad that gave Duke fits. Just like the teams’ first meeting, the Eagles rallied from behind—this time a two-goal deficit—to force extra time. But a postseason victory wasn’t in the cards for BC. Four minutes in, Margaux Paolino scored the game-winner off a corner rebound, dishing the Eagles their third and final overtime loss of the season.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Doton told BCEagles.com after the game. “The ACC Tournament is tough. Every team plays at such a high level. We were just on the short end today.”
Unfortunately for the second-year head coach, her team was on the short end of every ACC contest this fall. Unlike most conferences, though, finishing the season with a winless record against league opponents in the ACC isn’t necessarily embarrassing. After all, every school in the conference ended the year inside the top 15 of the nation’s RPI rankings and all but one—BC—made the NCAA Tournament. In some ways, the Eagles’ six ranked victories and near-perfect non-conference mark made up for their putrid ACC performance. When all was said and done, BC clocked out with the 11th-best RPI in the country.
Although the Eagles will lose Miller—one of the team’s best playmakers—to graduation, along with Mendonca and Justine Sheehan, they will return their top three leading goal scorers in 2018. With an experienced roster, the pressure will be on Doton to generate results, particularly in the ACC. In the three years prior to head coach’s tenure, BC posted at least 12 wins. During Doton’s brief stint with the Eagles, the team has recorded 10 and 11-win seasons and just four combined conference victories. Under her watch, there have been times that BC has looked like one the best teams in the ACC, if not the nation. At this point, it’s a matter of piecing it all together.
Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff