Top-Seeded Middlebury Set To Host NESCAC Championship Weekend

Top-Seeded Middlebury Set To Host NESCAC Championship Weekend

The top-seeded Middlebury women’s hockey team continues its quest for its 11th NESCAC title as the Panthers take on fourth-seeded Hamilton in semifinal action on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. As the top-seed of the tournament, Middlebury is hosting the championship weekend for the second-straight time and has advanced to the title game in each of the last six tournaments.          

No. 2 Colby and No. 3 Amherst face off at 4:30 p.m., with all games taking place in Chip Kenyon ’85 Arena. The winners will meet in the championship game at 2:00 p.m. on March 6 with the winner of that contest claiming the NESCAC automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament.

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Middlebury, the lone remaining undefeated team in Division III and ranked first nationally, advanced to the final weekend with a 2-1 home victory over ninth-seeded Connecticut College in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Cat Appleyard broke a tie game in the third period with a power-play tally, while rookie goalie Sophia Merageas turned aside 18 shots to earn the win in goal.

Offensively, the Panthers are led by 2022 NESCAC Player of the Year Madie Leidt. The senior captain tops the conference in goals (16) and is tied for the lead in points with (27). In addition, Leidt is tied second nationally with seven game-winning goals and has recorded a pair of hat tricks this season. Junior Jenna Letterie, an All-NESCAC First-Team honoree, is the NESCAC lead in assists (21) and is third in points (26).

On the blue line, a pair of all-conference selections lead Middlebury. Junior Claudia Vira was named to the first team, while classmate Eva Hendrikson received second-team laurels. Both players are tied for fifth on the team in scoring with 13 points.

Merageas leads the nation in goals against average (.80) and save percentage (.961), to go along with four shutouts. As a team, the Panthers are the best defensive unit in the country, allowing .63 goals per game and have held the opposition to one goal or less in 21 of 22 games this season.

Hamilton (12-9-0) defeated No. 5 Williams, 1-0, to reach the semifinals for the third straight championship. Sophomore Claire McGennis scored the lone goal of the game at the 6:38 mark of the first period and senior Sidney Molnar made 21 saves to record the shutout. Junior Nancy Loh, an All-NESCAC honoree, leads the Continentals in scoring with 24 points on 13 goals, including four game-winning tallies, to go with 11 assists. Fellow All-NESCAC selection, junior Abby Kuhns, and classmate Hyla Mosher have 10 assists apiece. Molnar has played nearly every minute in net this season and owns a 1.89 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. Hamilton ranks third among the NESCAC scoring leaders with 55 goals and is one of the least penalized teams in the conference.

Middlebury is 5-0 against Hamilton in NESCAC Tournament play, including a 2-1 win over the Continentals in the 2020 semifinals. The Panthers posted a 2-1 win on January 28 and a 5-1 victory on January 29 to take the regular-season series over the Continentals. Middlebury is looking to advance to the championship game for the seventh straight year and win its 11th title, while Hamilton is looking to reach the NESCAC final for the first time in program history.

The second semifinal featuring No. 3 Amherst and No. 2 Colby is another rematch from the 2020 semifinals. Amherst (13-8-2), the defending NESCAC Champion, advanced to the semifinals for the seventh straight year and 14th time overall following a 5-0 victory against No. 6 Bowdoin. Junior All-NESCAC selection Carley Daly’s three points (1 goal, 2 assists) led five Mammoths with multi-point nights in the quarterfinal victory. Senior Caitlin Walker, the All-NESCAC Second Team goalie, made 36 saves to preserve the shutout for Amherst. Sophomore Rylee Glennon and first-year Alyssa Xu lead Amherst in scoring. Glennon has 20 points on nine goals and 11 assists while Xu has 19 points on eight goals and 11 assists. Walker carries a 1.24 goals against average and a .951 save percentage into the weekend as the Mammoths’ top netminder. Amherst ranks third among NESCAC teams in goals allowed (29) and has scored 56 goals on the offensive end of the ice. The Mammoths’ penalty-kill unit has allowed just one goal on 41 power-play attempts this season.

Colby (16-4-1) defeated No. 7 Trinity, 3-1, to reach the semifinals for the second tournament in a row. All-NESCAC First Team selection, senior Lexi Cafiero, leads the team in scoring and ranks second in the conference with 27 points on 11 goals and 16 assists. NESCAC Rookie of the Year Meg Rittenhouse ranks second among the Mules in scoring with 20 points on 10 goals, four of the game-winning variety, and 10 assists. Senior Nina Prunster, the All-NESCAC First Team goalie, ranks second among the conference goaltenders with a 1.11 goals against average to go with a .957 save percentage. The Mules have scored 67 goals, including a NESCAC-best three shorthanded tallies, this season while yielding 24 goals to opponents. Colby has converted 17 of its 67 power-play opportunities for the best power-play percentage in the league (.254) and has allowed four power-play goals this season.

Amherst improved to 5-2 against Colby in NESCAC Tournament games with a 3-1 win over the Mules in the 2020 semifinals. The Mammoths went 1-0-1 against Colby during the final regular-season series on February 19-20 in Waterville, Maine. The two teams skated to a 1-1 tie in the first game before Amherst earned a 4-1 win in game two. Amherst, which has played in four of the last five championship games, looks to repeat as the NESCAC Champion and win its fifth title in program history. Colby has reached the championship game once (2008) and is seeking its first conference title. 

First Round – Friday, February 25 (at Higher Seed)
No. 9 Connecticut College def. No. 8 Wesleyan, 3-2 (2OT)
Quarterfinals (at Higher Seeds)
Saturday, February 26
No. 2 Colby def. No. 7 Trinity, 3-1
No. 3 Amherst def. No. 6 Bowdoin, 5-0
No. 4 Hamilton def. No. 5 Williams, 1-0
Sunday, February 27
No. 1 Middlebury def. No. 9 Conn. College, 2-1
Semifinals – Saturday, March 5 (at Middlebury)
No. 4 Hamilton at No. 1 Middlebury – 1 p.m.
No. 3 Amherst vs. No. 2 Colby – 4:30 p.m.
Championship – Sunday, March 6 (at Middlebury)
Semifinal Winners – 2:00 p.m.

— Courtesy of the NESCAC —