BOSTON, Mass. - The second-seeded Simmons College field hockey team is set to take on number three seed Johnson & Wales University in the Semifinals of the Inaugural Great Northeast Athletic Conference Field Hockey Tournament on Wednesday, November 5 at 7:00 p.m. The match will be hosted by Simmons on Bridgewater State University's Swenson Field in Bridgewater, Mass.
The Sharks earned the number two seed and received a bye into the semifinal round of the tournament after winning seven of their final eight matches to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record, including 5-1 in GNAC play. The Wildcats are 13-6 on the season, including 4-2 in league play and defeated Rivier University, 2-1, in the quarterfinals on November 1 to advance to the semis.
Prior to joining the GNAC this season for field hockey, Simmons had made four straight playoff appearances in the North Atlantic Conference. The Sharks' semifinal appearance marks their first time in the final four since 2006 when they were the number six seed in the NAC Tournament and pulled a 2-1 upset over number three Western New England to advance.
Simmons defeated Johnson & Wales, 2-1, in a thrilling overtime affair on October 4 in Providence, R.I. in the only meeting between the teams this season. Senior forward Kelly Williamson (Natick, Mass.) scored with 3:40 left in overtime to give the Sharks the win. First year midfielder Shaina Thompson (Delmar, Del.) scored early in the first half to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead, before rookie forward Samantha Rondeau (Franklin, Mass.) knotted the match at 1-1 for Simmons. The Sharks owned a 17-7 shot advantage for the afternoon.
Simmons opened its season with a really tough schedule and sat at 1-3 through the first four matches, before putting it all together and closing out the regular campaign with a 10-2 mark. The Sharks have been extremely balanced this season, tying for second in the league with 3.2 goals per game, just behind JWU's 3.3 mark, while standing second among GNAC teams with a stingy 1.06 goals against average. Simmons allowed more than two goals in a match just three times and posted eight shutouts. The team's defense also enjoyed a stretch of 236:13 minutes without allowing a goal from September 9-23.
Simmons sophomore keeper Brianna Rastello (Salem, N.H.) has been one of the league's best goalies all season as evidenced by a conference-high five Goalkeeper of the Week honors and a .780 save percentage, which ranks second in the league. The second-year goalie also owns a 1.21 goals against mark and registered five shutouts for the year. Senior back Avery Hines (Newburyport, Mass.) has been the backbone of the defense at left back, while junior Alexia Malone Oliver (Bristol, R.I.) has also contributed to the team's stellar defense in the backfield. Sophomore midfielders Amy Wilson (Falmouth, Mass.) and Robin Powell (Richmond, Vt.) along with first year Marra Wagner (Chester County, Pa.) have all been integral pieces to the team's success. Not only has the trio been a big part of the Sharks' ability to control the ball, but they also serve to fuel Simmons in penalty corner opportunities.
First year Julie Saltamartini (East Hampstead, N.H.) burst onto the collegiate scene this year for the Sharks and earned GNAC Rookie of the Week honors four times as well as Player of the Week accolades on two occasions. The forward has showcased a big shot, which has resulted in a team-high 12 goals as part of a team-leading 28 points. Williamson has also been a big part of the team's offense with 10 goals, including six game-winners, while Rondeau has gained more confidence throughout the season, finding her nitch as the team's best distributor with six assists to go with six markers.
You could argue that part of Simmons' slow start was because it was missing a pair of key offensive players. Sophomore forward Jenna Gagnon (Waterville, Maine) missed the first seven games of the season, but caught fire shortly after returning to the pitch and tallied 13 points in the Sharks' final five regular season contests. Classmate Mary Neidhardt (Middlefield, Conn.) also missed time, but returned to rack up 14 points, including six goals in 12 matches. Junior midfielder Amy Cronin (Georgetown, Mass.) has also been a key part of the offense, producing 12 points on three goals and six assists from the midfield.
Simmons has also been tough to match up with, due to its tremendous depth. Of the 51 goals scored by the Sharks this season, 19 of those scores came from players, who did not start the game. Not to mention the interchangeable personnel in the midfield for Simmons.
Johnson & Wales features a prolific offense, headlined by first year forward Giovanna Ciavardoni (Latham, N.Y.), who stands second in the league with 43 points on 18 goals and seven assists. Senior forward Courtney McTague (Saugus, Mass.) has also been a force to be reckoned with for the Wildcats, piling up 32 points on 14 goals and four assists, while rookie forward Katrina Brunette (Cohoes, N.Y.) and Thompson have both potted seven goals apiece for JWU. Freshman goalie Shannon Yoder (Boyertown, Pa.) has been outstanding in her first year of collegiate action, posting a .772 save mark to go with a 1.46 GAA and has been honored as the Goalkeeper of the Week four times.