Setting the Scene:
The Wittenberg University Tiger field hockey team appeared in be in rebuilding mode after losing one of the finest senior classes in school history following the 2002 season. Appearances can be deceiving.
With a roster filled with new faces and facing a daunting early-season schedule, the Tigers got off to a 2-5 start, including just 1-3 in the North Coast Athletic Conference. But then a funny thing happened. The new players learned their roles and began to mesh with the talented veterans who had been through the rigors of a collegiate season before. The turning point came after a 6-5 victory over Kenyon and a 2-1 overtime loss at DePauw on Sept. 27. In the games that followed, the wins began to pile up - including four straight by shutout and three against conference rivals that had previously beaten Wittenberg - and the confidence began to grow. Four weeks later, the Tigers had won seven straight NCAC regular season games (and a non-conference game against NCAA Division II Mercyhurst) to pull into a first-place tie with preseason favorite Wooster and Oberlin.
Seeded first based on tiebreaker criteria, the Tigers hosted Denison and Wooster in two NCAC Tournament games and came away with a pair of thrilling one-goal victories. The tourney title, Wittenberg's second straight, pushed the Tigers back to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the sixth time since 1992. The ride came to an end, however, in the first round with a loss to nationally ranked Cortland State.
Tigers In The Postseason:
The Tigers advanced to the NCAA Division III Field Hockey Tournament for the second straight year in 2003. The Tigers lost in the first round 6-0 to top-seeded regional host Cortland State, champion of the State University of New York Athletic Conference. It was the sixth time Wittenberg advanced to the national competition since 1992 and the second time in Head Coach Marianne Beshara's four seasons at the helm.
For the third time in her young career, Head Coach Marianne Beshara swept NCAC and Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year honors. Beshara, a 1999 graduate of Ohio University, also claimed the dual honors following the 2000 and 2002 seasons.
Beshara's regional coach of the year award came on the heels of another notable postseason awards announcement. Junior goalkeeper Jen Meyer (Solon, Ohio/Hathaway Brown) and junior midfielder Blair Ufer (Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer) were named third-team All-America. It was the second straight national honor for Meyer and the first for Ufer.
Meyer was named first-team All-NCAC, first-team All-Great Lakes Region and third-team All-America, all for a second straight year. Meyer allowed 28 goals in 17 games, and she spearheaded the midseason turnaround by helping a young defense post six total shutouts despite the loss of three All-Americans from the 2002 squad that went 17-4. Ufer, the team's second-leading scorer with 23 points in 2003, earned the same honors as Meyer - first-team all-conference, first-team all-region and third-team All-America.
Freshman Katy Barrett (Powell, Ohio/Watterson) was the team's third first-team All-NCAC choice after she paced the Tigers in scoring with 24 points. She was honored during the season by www.womensfieldhockey.com with Rookie of the Week honors and after the season she was named to the Web site's All-Rookie Team. Second-team honors went to junior Melanie Boss (Dayton, Ohio/Fairmont), sophomore Julia Wickham (Columbus, Ohio/Grandview) and junior Carrie Happ (Pittsburgh, Pa./Vincentian). Freshman Rachel Dunn (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Allegheny) rounded out the team's all-conference honorees with honorable mention recognition. Barrett, Happ and Wickham were additionally honored with second-team All-Great Lakes Region recognition.
In the NCAC Tournament, Most Valuable Player Katie Babcock (Phoenix, Md./Dulaney), a senior forward, scored the game-winning goal in overtime of the championship game against Wooster. The assist went to Wickham, who was joined on the all-tournament team by Meyer, Dunn, Happ and Babcock.
A year after four seniors formed the core of a great Wittenberg field hockey team, the Tigers skewed younger in 2003, featuring just one senior. Of the 15 players on the roster, seven were freshman and one was a sophomore playing her first season in the Red & White after a transfer (Wickham).
Three freshmen emerged as starters, led by Barrett, who topped the team with 11 goals and 24 total points. She appeared in all 20 games and started the last 19. Dunn was a strong defender who contributed one goal and four assists when making the transition toward the opponents' goal. She appeared in all 20 games and started 18 of them. And Holly McHugh (Randolph, NJ/Randolph) chipped in with two assists from her midfield position. She also appeared in all 20 games and started 18 of them.
In addition, Jaimee McGhee (Westerville, Ohio/Thomas Worthington) played in 16 games and made two starts, adding one goal and one assist to the offensive attack. Defender Kirsten Enevoldsen (Columbus, Ohio/Worthington Kilbourne) played 18 times and started nine, forward Melissa Jackson (Columbus, Ohio/Thomas Worthington) played in seven games and scored two goals and goalie Michelle Hanners (Columbus, Ohio/School for Girls) started three games in Meyer's absence and came up with two wins and an overtime loss. Her best performance came in a 3-0 home win over eventual regular season co-champion Wooster. She made five saves.
Wickham made the smooth transition to her new team and contributed three goals and five assists from her forward spot. In Babcock's absence in 2004, Wickham, Ufer and Barrett figure to pick up the slack and get even more opportunities. So will others in a stellar junior class, including Sarah Wallace (Reston, Va./South Lakes), who had five goals in 2003, Happ, Boss and midfielder Ashley Smith (Pittsford, NY/Mendon). Happ and Boss both started every game in 2003 and make up the heart of what should be another stout defense next year.
Departing from the 2003 Tigers will be Babcock and Meyer, who will miss the season in order to continue her studies at Duke University during the fall semester of 2004. They are among the few Wittenberg players to participate in the national tournament two straight years.
Wittenberg will carry a 21-game home win streak into the 2004 season, as well as an nine-game NCAC win streak (including the tournament).
Marianne Beshara ends her fourth year guiding the Tigers with a 58-21 overall record, including an outstanding 39-9 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. In 2003, Beshara accomplished the same feats again.