By: Brian Laubscher
So hopefully you are enjoying reliving some of the outstanding moments from the recent past in W&L athletics. Today we move on to the field hockey program.
There are two teams at W&L that I can claim to have been a part of since their inception and field hockey is one of them. The other is equestrian. Field hockey is the youngest sport at W&L, competing in its first varsity season in the fall of 2000. The beginnings of the program can be traced back to 1999 when a dedicated group of women began to organize the club program to the point where it could be considered for varsity status. I can’t remember all their names, but I can remember that Martha Cornbrooks ’01 should be recognized as having played a major factor in making it happen.
So in 1999, the team was playing their games on the law school lawn under probably horrible field conditions, but they stuck together and the next fall they had achieved developmental varsity status and would begin playing in a brand new Astroturf facility. They weren’t an ODAC program at that point, officially joining the conference in 2001.
I was amazed at how quickly things came together for the sport. Laurie Stagnitta (wife of then head men’s lacrosse coach Jim Stagnitta) guided the program through their developmental year and current head coach Wendy Orrison took over in 2001. The rest is history – or at least memories. Here are some of my favorite moments:
W&L claims its first-ever win with a 4-1 triumph over Randolph-Macon Woman’s College on September 28, 2000. The first season was rough early on as the Generals dropped each of their first five games and didn’t score their first goal until Kelly Taffe found the cage in a 4-1 loss to Randolph-Macon, the fourth game of the season. Just four days later the Generals came ever so close to getting that first win against rival Roanoke. They fell 2-1 in overtime. Instead of hanging its heads, W&L rebounded to post that first win over RMWC just two days after the Roanoke loss. W&L also picked up a forfeit win and defeated Bridgewater and Hollins on its way to a 4-8 record that first year.
The 2002 season resulted in the program’s first winning season as the Generals finished with a 10-9 overall record. A 1-0 win over Virginia Wesleyan on November 2, 2002 not only allowed W&L to claim a winning season, but it was also the first ODAC Tournament win in program history. The fourth-seeded Generals may have been the favorite, but it definitely felt like an upset for a team that was completing just its second season in the league. W&L dominated by outshooting the Marlins 15-2 and Elisabeth Putney scored the game-winner off a feed from Taffe with 11:08 left in the game. The Generals fell to top-seeded Lynchburg in the semifinals a few days later, but the win helped to propel the program into its current status as perennial ODAC title contender.
So in Division III field hockey, Eastern Mennonite has always been a major player. The Royals have won 11 conference titles and have been a factor in the NCAA Tournament since the early 1990’s. No offense to Lynchburg and their 12 ODAC titles and recent NCAA success, but in my mind, EMU has been the dragon. On September 24, 2004, the Generals finally slew the dragon. That day, W&L produced a 5-3 victory, its first over the Royals. It didn’t matter that EMU finished that season 6-11 overall, certainly a down year for them. This was a signature win in my opinion. Kitt Murphy scored a pair of goals, Jane Beall had one goal and one assist and Courtney Harrison stopped six shots to propel W&L to the win. It was the first win of the season for W&L and served as a catalyst for the Generals to close the season with nine wins in their final 14 games.
The 2005 season was a special one for the W&L field hockey program. That was the year that the Generals would play host to the Division III field hockey national championships at the turf field. How crazy would it be if the Generals actually made the NCAA Tournament that year? Well, they did. On November 5, 2005, W&L defeated Lynchburg 2-1 to clinch the program’s first conference title and first bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. It only took five years for the program to complete its arrival. The 2005 season is still the best in program history as the Generals finished 15-6 overall and 7-1 in league play. The win over Lynchburg was no surprise after defeating the Hornets 3-1 earlier in the year and hosting the tournament, but it was an exciting time for the program and all involved. The Hornets held a 1-0 lead at halftime, but Jane Beall scored a pair of second-half markers, including the game-winner with 11:05 left. Harrison and Elise Gelinas combined for three saves, including one by Gelinas in the late going to preserve the win, a school-record 11th-straight victory.
Despite advancing to the NCAA Tournament and having good success in the conference with national powers Eastern Mennonite and Lynchburg, the Generals had still not produced a win over a ranked opponent until defeating 16th-ranked Catholic at the turf field on September 22, 2006. Funny how you can remember some of the moments like driving through Baltimore when learning of the volleyball team’s win over Emory. I remember getting this phone call as well. Jeremy Franklin and I had just gotten back to our hotel room after having dinner. We were in Lexington, Ky., as we were going to be playing Centre in football the next afternoon. I got the call from then-assistant SID Austin Calhoun who, if you know Austin, was quite excited about the significant event. That being said, I was pretty excited too. We talked about whether it was the first-ever win over a ranked team and Austin confirmed it before writing the story about the game. Sallie Armstrong scored the game-winner and Amy Volkmann provided the insurance goal with just over a minute to play. Tara Rubenstein notched a pair of saves in the shutout.
Sept. 17, 2003 – W&L notches its first-ever win over rival Roanoke, 2-1, in overtime.
Nov. 9, 2005 – The Generals fall to Montclair State, 2-0, in their first-ever NCAA contest
October 26, 2008 – W&L knocks off 17th-ranked Christopher Newport, 3-2, in overtime.