UConn coach finally gets her title
NORFOLK, Va. -- Field hockey's all-time winningest coach finally notched the biggest W of them all on Sunday.
Nancy Stevens and her UConn Huskies are national champions at last after blanking Duke 2-0 on a bitterly cold afternoon at Old Dominion University's L.R. Hill Sports Complex. It was the program's first national title since 1985 and third overall.
No Big East team had won the championship since those Huskies, as the ACC has dominated, winning 10 of the past 12. Princeton defeated North Carolina in the 2012 title game.
Stevens, who surpassed ODU's Beth Anders earlier this year as the sport's most successful coach, has amassed 572 victories in her 35-year coaching career that includes 24 years in Storrs.
Even Blue Devils coach Pam Bustin, who won her 200th game on Friday, had to admit, "This is long overdue."
"As an assistant [lacrosse] coach at Penn State, I was part of two national championships, but it's nice to also feel what it's like to win a national championship as a head coach," Stevens said. "At the end of the day, it's about the players, isn't it?"
Indeed, and the Huskies were superior, negating a Blue Devils attack that amassed 13 goals in its three NCAA tournament games. Credit two-time All-American keeper Sarah Mansfield and UConn's ability to solve all 10 Blue Devil corners for the shutout.
"The defense played absolutely amazing today," said Mansfield, who had five saves, three after corners. "I didn't have to do too much today."
"It's very difficult to generate a lot of attack when they have the goalkeeper they have," Bustin said. "But they also put a lot of numbers in front of the ball when we're trying to attack, and it makes it very difficult."
UConn (21-4) got all the scoring it needed with 23:05 on the scoreboard when Chloe Hunnable flicked in a rebound off the Huskies' second corner -- the junior's 23rd goal of the season. Hunnable assisted on the insurance goal 6½ minutes later, allowing Mckenzie Townsend to send the redirected shot over Lauren Blazing in goal.
Even with the advantage, Hunnable said the Huskies left the halftime locker room with a 0-0 mindset.
"You can't ever relax in a championship game," she said, recalling UConn falling to North Carolina two years ago in the final four despite a two-goal lead.
But UConn didn't wither, and Hunnable nearly added another, but her shot bounced off the post.
The Huskies' celebration included a rousing rendition of "We Are The Champions" sung at midfield while the wind continued to whip, as well as a haircut for David Townsend, father to Mckenzie Townsend.
"I promised her," he said stroking his freshly shaved head. "The beard and the moustache went at the Big East tournament."
"What a better way to go out; this is incredible," Mansfield said. "We talked about it all summer in an email thread, and we talk about it as a team all the time. To actually be here right now in this minute with my teammates, my coaches, myself, to get to this point in the season as a senior, is incredible. It isn't real yet. It hasn't sunk in. It's amazing."
Duke (17-6) concludes a marvelous run after not advancing to the national tournament last season. The Blue Devils defeated nine ranked teams in 2013 and took out No. 1 seed Maryland 3-2 on Friday. That was the second victory for the Blue Devils over the top team in the nation; Duke upset North Carolina in a shootout on Sept. 27.
"Obviously in our locker room, we're all pretty heartbroken. You won't ever beat the love our team has for each other and the fun we had," senior Emmie Le Marchand said. "The journey we've been on this season, none of us will ever forget. It's hard to fall at the final hurdle, but the journey getting here was unbelievable."
UConn dropped three straight in October, including a 5-0 rout by Old Dominion, a game that turned the season around, Mansfield said.
"Everything about the team changed since then," she said. "I don't think we would have been here without that loss. You need that one demoralizing loss to pick you up and get you where you were before."
The Huskies produced five shutouts in their final eight games, avenging their earlier losses to ODU, Boston College and North Carolina. UConn had been 0-3 against Duke, including two losses in the NCAA tournament.
"This is so empowering for young women to achieve at this level and go through adversity and pull together," Stevens said. "That's why we do what we do as coaches. When you see them face fears and be able to triumph over them, that is why we do it -- to be bold and take risks. Our hope is they continue to do that after they finish their careers at Connecticut."
The Division I championship was the final one of the day in Norfolk, which also hosted the Division II and III events -- the first time all three title games have been held at one venue.
Division III Bowdoin won its fourth national title with a 1-0 defeat of Salisbury in the opener.
The Shippensburg team became the first program from that school to win an NCAA championship with a 2-1 overtime victory over LIU Post. The game was decided by a penalty stroke.