INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Simmons College field hockey team will travel to Biddeford, Maine to take on University of New England in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, it was announced late last night by the NCAA. The contest will be played on Wednesday, November 12 at 6:00 p.m. on the Big Blue Turf on the campus of UNE in Biddeford, Maine.
Simmons earned an NCAA automatic bid via its 3-1 victory over Anna Maria College on November 8 to capture its first-ever Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship. University of New England defeated Endicott College, 4-3, in double overtime to take the Commonwealth Coast Conference crown and secure the NCAA berth.
The Sharks will be making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament, while the Nor'easters return after their first-ever appearance in 2010. Simmons heads into the NCAA tourney with a 13-5 mark, while UNE stands at 16-6. Both teams have won nine of their last 10 contests. The meeting will be the first-ever between the field hockey programs.
Simmons opened its season with a challenging schedule and sat at 1-3 through the first four matches, before putting it all together and winning 12 of its last 14 matches. The Sharks have been extremely balanced this season, leading the league with 3.3 goals per game, while standing second among GNAC teams and 17th in the nation with a stingy 1.13 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 .777 save percentage, which ranks second in the league. The second-year goalie also owns a 1.25 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.), Hailey Bruno-Moulton (South Berwick, Maine) 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 quartet 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 15 goals as part of a team-leading 34 points. Senior forward Kelly Williamson (Natick, Mass.) has also been a big part of the team's offense with 11 goals, including six game-winners, while first year forward Samantha Rondeau (Franklin, Mass.) has gained more confidence throughout the season, finding her nitch as the team's best distributor with seven assists to go with seven 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, racking up all 18 of her points in her last seven contests. Classmate Mary Neidhardt (Middlefield, Conn.) also missed time, but returned to pile up 14 points, including six goals in 14 matches. Junior midfielder Amy Cronin (Georgetown, Mass.) has also been a key part of the offense, producing 13 points on three goals and seven assists from the midfield.
Simmons has also been tough to match up with, due to its tremendous depth. Of the 59 goals scored by the Sharks this season, 20 of those scores came from players, who did not start the game. Not to mention the interchangeable personnel in the midfield for Simmons.
The Nor'easters led the CCC with 3.5 goals per game and ranked second in the league with a 1.42 GAA. UNE boasted three of the top five scorers in the conference, led by senior forward Erin Bibber (Charlton, Mass.) with 36 points, including 16 goals, while sophomore forward Nicole Matarozzo (Wolfeboro, N.H.) collected 33 points on 15 goals and three assists. First year forwards Vonde Saunders (Center Conway, N.H.) and Olivia Madore (Arundel, Maine) have come off the bench combine for 47 points, including 26 from Saunders. Senior back Beth Sullivan (Cumberland, R.I.) has given UNE some added punch from the backline, scoring eight goals, including three of strokes to go with three assists. Sophomore keeper Holly Smith (Peabody, Mass.) has played in all but 24:25 minutes for the Nor'easters, while posting a .766 save mark and a 1.45 goals against average.