On the last weekend before Thanksgiving break, 20 players from Club Field Hockey traveled to Virginia Beach, VA for the National Field Hockey League Championships. We qualified after a historic regular season, having been ranked #1 in the country for four weeks consecutively during the regular season, and was ranked #2 going into the Championship weekend after a heartbreaking loss in the last game to #1 Virginia Tech. It was our only loss in the season and we finished with a 10-1 record. This follows a similarly successful 10-0 regular season in 2022, where our championship dreams were shattered in the quarterfinals against rivals and eventual champions UNC Chapel Hill.
The top 16 teams in the regular season qualify for Nationals. The tournament starts with a group stage of four groups with four teams each. The winner of each group advances, while the top two second-place teams also advance. On top of that, the top two teams overall receive a bye into the next round. A total of six teams advance.
We had a tough but successful group stage ahead of the playoffs, playing against #7 Temple, #8 Alabama, #10 UMass Amherst, and #15 Vermont. We clinched the first seed with a tournament-leading 19 goals scored and 1 goal against, earning a bye into the semi-finals. Despite the scoreline, it was not always smooth sailing. An early concession against Vermont served as a wake-up call to our sleep-deprived team. After a swift response a few minutes later, we pulled away with a 4-1 win after taking time to collect ourselves.
After a quarterfinal bye as the top-seeded team, our semi-finals came against a strong University of Connecticut side, a team who, like us, didn’t have that much experience at the national championships. It was a swift and decisive 3-0 victory, with our team having executed flawlessly our game plan to neutralize their attack down the middle of the field.
Once the game was over, we quickly discovered that our championship opponents were to be rivals Virginia Tech, whom we had narrowly lost to in the regular season and was our only loss in almost a whole calendar year. Despite possessing the ball most of the game, the scoreline went back and forth. We conceded an early goal on a penalty corner when their shot deflected perfectly off our defender’s stick, but immediately clapped back with a goal of our own a couple of minutes later. The 4-3 final score in the game reflected just how exhilarating the game was, with all of their goals scored on penalty corners, and us having to play a player down after one of us was sent off for slipping and accidentally tripping an opposing player.
While the statistics would reflect that we had a smooth sailing season and tournament, it was also not the case. Three starters were injured in the weeks leading up to the tournament, with a further three injured during the tournament. The depth and talent of this squad really shone, perfectly demonstrating our style of play that showed our commitment to everyone on the team, not just a few star players. Certain players on the team also received verbal abuse from fans of opposing teams due to their gender, but they took it in stride and continued to push our team toward our final goal of making it into the championship game.
With our goals set on next Fall, we’re eyeing yet another deep run into the National Championship. Before that, however, we’re planning to have a more relaxed yet still competitive Spring season where we will hopefully travel and spend more time together as a team. We’re lucky that so many of our core players will be returning next year, as we reaffirm our commitment to all players from any background or experience. This club has brought together so many students from such different backgrounds, from all corners of the globe and everyone from freshmen, to graduate, law, medical students, to even professors. With such a young and committed core, we hope that we continue our successes into the coming years, and remain foundational to so many students’ Duke experience.
Image Credit: Duke Club Field Hockey