JMU three-peats as CAA field hockey champions

Published 9:43 pm Monday, November 10, 2008

VIRGINIA BEACH – For the third straight season, James Madison won the Colonial Athletic Association field hockey title and for the third straight season the championship result was a 1-0 victory over Old Dominion on Sunday at the U.S. Field Hockey National Training Center.

Not so coincidentally, it’s now the third season Lakeland graduate Kelsey Cutchins has been the goalkeeper for JMU. On Friday, Cutchins was voted the CAA Player of the Year for the second straight season.

Joining Cutchins on the All-CAA team is Old Dominion senior, and Lakeland alum, Katelyn Smither. Smither, the preseason selection for Player of the Year in the CAA, led ODU in goals with 11, so in one way the match pitted the former high school teammates directly against each other.

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The top-ranked Dukes controlled much of the action. The opening half went by scoreless, but most of the play took place in the Old Dominion half of the field with JMU outshooting ODU 9-0.

After playing most of JMU’s semifinal match, a 4-1 win over William and Mary, forward Lindsay Cutchins, Kelsey’s younger sister, continued to see quite a bit of playing time as a substitute.

No. 3-seeded ODU put together a couple dangerous chances in the first few minutes of the second half, forcing Cutchins into her first saves of the day.

Twelve minutes into the second half, JMU’s goal-scoring play started with a shot on goal by Dolores de Rooij. ODU goalie Kelly Driscoll saved the shot, but the rebound went to JMU’s Lauren Walls near the right post and she scored what played out to be the decisive goal.

Driscoll saved a JMU penalty stroke with 17:41 remaining, keeping the match within a goal.

After a timeout with 6:08 remaining, Old Dominion decided to pull Driscoll from the goal and play the rest of the way with an extra field player.

The strategy helped earn a couple attacks inside JMU’s arc. Cutchins was forced into a quick kick save with 2:05 remaining. As the clock went under a minute, Smither dribbled inside the top of the JMU arc, but had a shot attempt denied by a JMU defender diving to the turf on a play ODU supporters desperately wanted a penalty corner called for.

With seven saves, the shutout for Cutchins was her eighth of the season. Practically every stat having to do with Cutchins, who was a first-team All-American in 2007, and her career thus far at JMU is outstanding.

Cutchins has five shutouts in JMU’s 6-0 CAA Tournament record in the last three seasons. JMU’s 11 total shutouts leads the nation this year. Cutchins leads the nation in goals allowed per match (0.66).

Sunday’s win gives JMU (18-2, No. 4 nationally) an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

With a 10-13 record, Old Dominion’s chances for an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament do not look good. ODU’s streak of consecutive tournament appearances is 26 seasons.

In her four seasons with ODU, Smither played in 93 matches. After initially playing as a forward for the Monarchs, Smither played as a back during her sophomore and junior seasons before returning to forward this season.

Smither’s importance all over the field is clear as on one hand she’s ODU’s top scorer this season, and on the other, she’s one of ODU’s four defenders opponents’ penalty corners. A two-time first team All-CAA selection, Smither ends her Monarch career with 24 goals and 12 assists.

The NCAA Tournament starts with the first two rounds on Nov. 15-16. JMU will learn its site and opponent when the selections are announced on Tuesday evening.