Setting the Scene:
The Wittenberg University Tiger field hockey team put together yet another outstanding season in 2002, finishing with a 17-4 overall record and a mark of 10-2 in the North Coast Athletic Conference. The list of accomplishments was lengthy, led by NCAC regular season and tournament championships and the fifth NCAA Division III Tournament berth in school history.
The Tigers, the first Great Lakes Region team to be ranked in the national top 20 in three years, finished the season No. 1 in the region. They started out with 11 straight victories, including seven consecutive against conference opponents. The Tigers’ only two NCAC losses came against perennial rivals Denison and Wooster on their home fields by narrow 1-0 margins, and the latter defeat was avenged with a 6-2 NCAC Tournament final victory just weeks later.
The Tigers finished the regular season ranked No. 13 in the country, and compiled a perfect 10-0 record in the friendly confines of Edwards-Maurer Field.
Tigers In The Postseason:
The Tigers advanced to the NCAA Division III Field Hockey Tournament for the first time since 1998. The Tigers received a first-round bye before losing 3-0 in the second round to Williams College, champion of the New England Small College Athletic Conference tournament and an NCAA Division III quarterfinalist in 2001 and ‘02. It was the fifth time Wittenberg advanced to the national competition since 1992.
Rebecca Russ (Louisville, Ky./Sacred Heart) was named NCAC Defensive Player of the Year for the first time in her career and Marianne Beshara was named NCAC co-Coach of the Year to lead a parade of Tiger field hockey postseason award-winners.
Russ was the leader of the Tigers’ record-setting defense, and she was also the leader in postseason honors, beginning with the Player of the Year award and first-team All-NCAC recognition for a third consecutive year. In addition, Russ was named first-team All-Great Lakes Region for a second straight year and first-team All-America for the first time in her career.
Senior forward Emily Duh (Hellertown, Pa./Saucon Valley) also earned first-team All-America after a record-setting 2002 campaign. Duh was a first-team All-NCAC selection each of the last three years and an all-region selection the last two. She also was voted the team’s offensive MVP each of the last three years, and she earned recognition for her schoolwork on the National Academic Squad each of the last two years. In addition, Duh was the NCAC tournament MVP.
Two other Tiger players claimed All-America honors as well. Senior defender Heather House (Dayton, Ohio/Oakwood) and sophomore goalkeeper Jen Meyer (Solon, Ohio/Hathaway Brown) were named to the third team. It was the first national recognition for either, coming on the heels of first-team All-NCAC and first-team All-Great Lakes Region honors for both. House was a four-year letterwinner and a three-year starter. Meyer, who was ranked 10th in the country in goals against average (0.79) and 14th in the country in save percentage (87.7), was named the team’s overall MVP.
Also garnering All-NCAC recognition were sophomore midfielder Blair Ufer (Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer), the team’s fifth first-team selection, and senior defender Jill Hobelman (St. Louis, Mo./Villa Duchesne) and sophomore Melanie Boss (Dayton, Ohio/Fairmont), who were both honorable mention choices. Ufer earned the added recognition of second-team All-Great Lakes Region.
To wrap things up, Ufer, Russ, Meyer, House and Duh were all named to the NCAC All-Tournament team.
Emily Duh and Rebecca Russ were selected to participate in the NFHCA Division III North/South Senior All-Star game, a prestigious annual event held on Nov. 23, at Springfield College during the 2002 Final Four.
Case for the Defense:
Wittenberg scored a lot of goals in 2002, putting 55 balls past opposing netminders and scoring four goals or more seven times in 21 games. But the Tigers made the biggest dent on the record books with their defense, which yielded just 17 goals all season, including a record-setting six in 12 NCAC regular season games.
The team defense finished ranked 10th in the nation. Wittenberg recorded 10 shutouts on the season, including eight in the first 10 games. Just five teams managed two goals in a game against the Tigers, and only Williams scored three.
Emily Duh led the Tiger offense in 2002, but she had plenty of help. Duh scored a school-record 60 total points on a school-record-tying 26 goals and eight assists in 2002, bringing her career total to 106 points, third-most in school history. She finished fifth in the nation in total points and third in goals.
Five other players finished in double digits for total points, led by junior Katie Babcock (Phoenix, Md./Dulaney), who returned from a foot injury that sidelined her in 2001 to score seven goals and two assists for 16 total points. Freshman Emma Rufleth (Clinton, Conn/The Morgan School) was next with 15 total points on four goals and seven assists, followed by sophomores Katie Houchens (Denver, Colo./Kent Denver) with 13 total points, Deb Muller (Weston, Conn./The Millbrook School) with 12 total points and Blair Ufer with 10. In addition, sophomore Sarah Wallace (Reston, Va./South Lakes) had nine points.
As one of the finest senior classes in school history exits stage left, they leave behind a tradition-laden program on solid ground.
In 2002, all but two field players registered an offensive point, and of the returners for 2003, they combined for 27 goals and 21 assists. Meyer, Ufer and Boss are the most decorated players returning, and they will be joined by several other returning starters, including Babcock and Rufleth, the second and third-leading scorers on the team this year.
Marianne Beshara ends her third year guiding the Tigers with a 45-14 overall record, including an outstanding 30-6 mark in the North Coast Athletic Conference. Beshara earned 2000 NCAC Coach of the Year and became the third Wittenberg field hockey coach to take home Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year honors for her efforts. She duplicated those feats in 2002 with NCAC Co-Coach of the Year honors and Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year as well.