Section: Sports

Historic seasons send three teams to NCAA tournies

Historic seasons send three teams to NCAA tournies

Courtesy of Kenyon Athletics

By Alex Pijanowski

Last week, three Kenyon teams — field hockey, men’s soccer and women’s soccer — won the championship games of their North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) tournaments, and in doing so advanced to their respective NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) tournaments. This is the first time in the history of Kenyon athletics that three fall sports teams have qualified for nationals in the same season.

Of the three programs, Lords soccer has reached the national tournament most often in the past 20 years. Since 1995, the team made it to the NCAA tournament in 1995, 1996, 2001, 2010, 2013 and 2014. Ladies soccer made the national tournament most recently in 2006 ­— their lone appearance prior to this year. Field hockey reached NCAAs for the first time.

This year, each team was built around a superstar player who has been at the forefront of their respective team’s glory — Tony Amolo ’17 for men’s soccer, Rachel Hall ’15 for field hockey and Becca Romaine ’15 for women’s soccer. This season, Hall became the most prolific goal-scorer in the team’s history, and Romaine finished her career as fourth all-time goal-scorer for the Ladies. Amolo, who scored 14 goals this year and 11 last year, could find himself in the Kenyon record books if he improves his scoring production every year. Of course, the ingredients to dominance have included more than any one player.

For Lords soccer, the season was magical from the beginning. Until they lost to Wabash College on Oct. 18, the team ranked second in all of Division-III. Though they tied their next game against Ohio Wesleyan University and were downgraded to fifth in the national rankings, the team regained its composure and won their remaining three regular-season games. 

Grant Carney ’15, a Lords defender, says the team was in a rebuilding stage during his first season at Kenyon. Though it seems unbelievable that a team as dominant as it is now could have been in rebuilding mode so recently, when Carney and his classmates arrived, the program had just graduated many of the members who led it to its 2010 NCAA appearance.

“After all those guys graduated, we were stuck with a younger team that had just three or four seniors and a few juniors,” Carney said. “It gave a chance for freshmen like myself and a few other teammates … to come in and play from a young age.”

The atypical wealth of experience that the Class of 2015 earned in their first two seasons is, in large part, what made the successes of this season possible. Carney’s three companions in the defensive line — Logan Ernst ’15, Sam Justice ’15 and Cameron Scott ’15 — were all members of that rebuilding year who played a central role in this campaign. For Carney, this season represented the perfect opportunity to cement his class’s legacy.

“At the beginning of the season, we set out a list of goals, and one of those goals was to host the tournament at Mavec [Field],” he said. “We didn’t really want our last memory to be an NCAC tournament — we wanted to take it a step further and bring NCAA to Gambier.”

Field hockey also earned a near-perfect record this year. Carrying the top ranking in their region and a record of 19-2 into the NCAA tournament, the field hockey team earned the right to play their first-round game at home against Messiah College (Grantham, Penn.). Although the Ladies lost 2-0, this in no way diminishes the magnitude of this accomplishment. 

Rachel Hall ’15, who was a sophomore when current Head Coach Jacque DeMarco took the reins, credits her coach with facilitating the team’s success.

“We just really worked on the fundamentals with [DeMarco] when she first got there,” Hall said. “She really is just so approachable. She’s a great coach.”

DeMarco guided the program from a 7-11 finish in 2011, 8-10 in 2012, 13-7 in 2013 and finally to the team’s best record in its history this year.

Hall also credits a strong sense of togetherness and friendship among the team members as fostering the positive atmosphere necessary for a team to thrive.

“One thing that Jacque always has us do before games is, whether we’re traveling or not, we have a notecard, and it has one of our teammate’s names on it,” Hall said. “We write what we think that they’re good at, what we appreciate about them, why we respect them. Then, we meet up with that person and read it to them. It just makes us feel really good before we go out and play.”   

In contrast, women’s soccer faltered early, but had solidified their attack by season’s end.Although this was not the first year that the women’s soccer team has benefited from Romaine’s talen, it was the first such year in which everything came together. Romaine said that developing the proper mentality was almost as crucial as athletic performance to making their nationals run a reality this year.

“We’ve always been a team that had a capability, but when you start to do it, you start to believe in yourself, actually,” she said. “I think that’s been the biggest difference.”

Romaine also believes that the perfect combination of veteran and young players came together on the field this year.

“The seniors and the people that have been on the team before went through a lot in the last couple of years, and have learned a lot,” she added. “Even though we have a young team, we were able to bring them up and get them involved as soon as possible.”

“I think we’ve improved with each game this season,” she added. “The more time you do spend with each other, the more you become a team.”

While two of these teams have yet to see how their seasons will conclude, one thing is certain: next year’s fall sports teams will have a lot to live up to.

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