In Her Own Words: Senior Field Hockey Goaltender Neilson on Third NCAA Championship

Still basking in the glow of the field hockey team’s NCAA championship win over Messiah Sunday in Newport News, Va., goaltender Emily Neilson ’11 shares her experience of being a Division III champion three times over.

When I was asked to write about my experience winning the 2010 National Championship for Bowdoin for the third time – it was hard to know where to begin. So many feelings, memories and smiles run through my head. It was a happy day for anybody affiliated with Bowdoin. I could talk about the semifinal game strategy against Skidmore, or the awful sun glare on the turf, or the immense pressure of the championship game versus Messiah.

But what pops to the forefront of my mind is something bigger: what this team and program draws out in people. It would be only fair to start at the beginning, the very beginning. Coming in as a first year in 2007, I learned what the Bowdoin Field Hockey team was about: passion, dedication, battling to the very end, respect and the deepest kind of commitment. We were pushed and challenged to grow as players and as people. 2007 was the first time a Bowdoin College athletic team brought home a national title. The captains who led the team that year, Val Young, Meaghan Maguire and Hillary Hoffman, showed us that Bowdoin Field Hockey could accomplish greatness with the right attitude and work ethic.

Then in 2008, lightning struck again with another national title. It was a double-overtime nail-biter against our NESCAC rival, Tufts. I remember in the celebration seeing the seniors of that year crying ““ it was a feeling I did not experience until this past Sunday.”¨ Our coach, Nicky Pearson, told us throughout post-season playoffs that if we played our game, we could beat any team in the nation. Our win on Saturday slated us for that challenge: a 1 p.m. showdown against the number-one ranked Messiah. For me, as the goaltender, I knew the Messiah attack would be dangerous and constant. The thing is, the way our girls play for Bowdoin is all heart. We put everything on the line; we used everything in the tank. And then regulation went into overtime, and another overtime.

Emily Neilson '11 (right) with Kayla Lessard '13 and goalie coach Chris Waltham.

Finally, it was down to penalty shots to determine who would be champion. In a situation so unfathomably pressured (it gives me butterflies to remember it now), my mind was strangely calm and clear. My job was simple at that point – stop the ball. That is what it came down to. McKenna Teague’s shot put away the competition for good, and there we were: 20 girls who had accomplished their dream, together. Between the tears and hugs and laughter, I think we all got a taste of what pure joy is.

My fellow senior teammate Phoebe McCarthy said to the team before we played in the final that this game was not just for us: it was for all those who came before us in the program, who put the team on a journey a long time ago to get to where it is now. We saw that it was something bigger when alums and their parents from the past four years came back to support us in the championship game. It was a truly wonderful day.ӬOn behalf of my teammates, I would like to thank the Bowdoin community for inspiring and supporting this team to go on its amazing journey. Anything is possible.

thumb: