NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – A year ago, the Merrimack College field hockey team opened up eyes across the country after posting what was, at the time, the greatest campaign in program history, one that included the team's first-ever Northeast-10 Conference regular season title, as well as a trip to the NCAA Final Four.
This fall, the Warriors proved that their success from 2011 was indeed no fluke; on the contrary, after another record-setting season in 2012, Merrimack proved that its status of national contender was warranted and, more importantly, would not be changing anytime soon.
Guided by fifth-year head coach Anne Rounce, the Warriors were challenged early and often by a demanding schedule that helped establish a foundation for late-season success. Merrimack wasted little time in facing off against some of the country's best, taking on preseason top-ranked and defending national champion West Chester, along with ninth-ranked East Stroudsburg and 10th-ranked Bentley within a span of six days to kick off the season.
The Warriors would build up an 8-2 overall record over the first month of the season and marched into the month of October with all eyes fixed on a pivotal road showdown at conference rival UMass-Lowell, a game that would have significant implication toward the NE-10 standings.
On that chilly Tuesday night, Merrimack overcome a 1-0, first-half deficit with two quick strikes in the final stanza, as the Warriors stunned the River Hawks, 2-1, in their biggest win of the regular season on Oct. 16.
That victory helped Merrimack wrap up its second consecutive NE-10 regular season title, as the Warriors entered the playoffs with home field advantage and the No. 1 seed.
But for the second straight year, Merrimack fell to UMass-Lowell in the conference championship game, as a staunch defense by the River Hawks managed to fend off one of the best offenses in the country, denying the Warriors of their first-ever conference championship.
Still, Merrimack clinched another trip to the NCAA Tournament, but unlike 2011, the Warriors would need an additional victory to secure a return to the Final Four.
Drawing Bentley in the first round of the national tournament, Merrimack overcame an early 1-0 deficit before eventually prevailing, 3-2, over the Falcons. It was the Warriors' third victory in three tries against Bentley this season; Merrimack previously won on the road, 4-1, on Sept. 6, and edged the Falcons at home, 3-2, in an overtime thriller at the end of September.
That set the stage for a rematch with the River Hawks in the NCAA Semifinals on Nov. 9 at the Cushing Complex in Lowell, Mass. But for the second time in two weeks, Merrimack could not crack the River Hawk defense and just missed on a pair of potential game-changing goals; ultimately, the Warriors fell, 2-0, and saw their season come to a close in the Final Four for the second year in a row.
Despite just missing out on a chance to play in the Final Four Championship, Rounce understands that a foundation for excellence has been built over the past two years, and has her student-athletes to thank for that.
"I am very proud of the team for all of their accomplishments this past season," Rounce said in summing up the campaign. "Due to their passion, dedication, teamwork and overall work ethic, we managed the extremely difficult task of winning back-to-back regular season championships and reaching the NCAA Final Four. Given the competitiveness of our league and just how difficult and demanding our schedule was, this was no small feat and these girls should take great pride in what they've done over the past two years."
The Warriors finished the campaign tied for the program single-season record in victories (17), while a historic five-member senior class wrapped up their careers donning the Navy and Gold. April Daugherty(Wakefield, R.I.), Jen Otis (Penacook, N.H.), Jamie Spano (Reading, Mass.), Katie Zubkus (Dover, N.H.) and Kerri Bergquist (Mashpee, Mass.) all helped the Warriors win their first-ever NE-10 regular season crown in program history and earn their first-ever NCAA Final Four appearance last fall and replicated those efforts this season, as well. They graduate as the winningest class in school history.
"Our senior class has helped create a strong foundation with their leadership, work ethic and talent these past four years," Rounce said of the quintet. "These five seniors I definitely hold close to my heart, as they believed in what our program could become and even then always strived to get that much better. I will look forward to seeing a variety of returners step in to different roles this off season as we will work hard to take another step in the right direction."
Merrimack's success did not go unnoticed, as a program-record six Warriors were named Longstreth/NFHCA Division II All-Americans. Daughtery and junior Jessica Otis (Pittsford, N.H.) were named First Team All-Americans, while Bergquist, Jen Otis, and juniors Candace Waldie (North Andover, Mass.) and Sarah Dunbar (Hubbardston, Mass.) were named Second Team All-Americans.
Daugherty wrapped up her final year with the program with another outstanding season on the offensive end, ranking second on the team with 52 points (21g, 10a) one year after setting a single-season program record with 50 points. The Wakefield, R.I., native and 2011 NE-10 Player of the Year leaves the program as arguably the greatest player to ever don a Merrimack uniform after establishing new career records in all scoring categories. She also becomes the program's first-ever three-time All-American after being named a Second-Team All-American as a freshman.
The NE-10 Goalkeeper of the Year, Bergquist followed up a tremendous junior season – during which she was also named a First-Team All American – with an even better senior campaign. The Mashpee, Mass., native led the NE-10 and was near the top of the country with an .832 save percentage while posting a 17-4 record between the pipes and an impressive 1.28 goals-against average. The senior also notched seven shutouts over the course of the year, as well.
And finally, one season after Daugherty had posted one of the best single-season outputs in program history, Waldie shattered that mark with a 61-point campaign in 2012. The local North Andover product led the country in scoring and converted at more than a 1-for-4 clip, boasting a stellar shooting percentage of .270 on the year. Waldie also blew away the old single-season record with nine game-winning goals, including one in overtime, and posted a hat trick on two occasions. She also scored a school-record six goals in a victory against Saint Michael's in early September.
Despite the graduation of a vital senior class, the Warriors bring back plenty of contributors from this season, including Waldie and Jessica Otis. The returning supporting cast should have Merrimack right back in the title hunt next fall.
For coverage of Merrimack field hockey throughout the offseason, check back online at www.merrimackathletics.com.
November 29: Women's Crew
November 30: Women's Cross Country
December 3: Women's Golf
December 4: Men's Cross Country
December 5: Volleyball
December 6: Women's Soccer
December 7: Field Hockey
December 10: Football
December 11: Men's Soccer