By Matt Bradshaw —
For the first time since 2013, U of L field hockey has been denied entrance to the NCAA tournament.
Sixteen schools earned bids for the 2018 NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship. Ten conferences were given automatic-qualification and six teams were selected at-large.
Naturally, the snub comes as a disappointment for the Cardinals. Their 2018 run was not the best compared to recent years (13 wins is the program’s lowest since 2015) but remains a season that constantly kept Louisville in the national conversation.
“It’s something we’re really proud of,” head coach Justine Sowry said in the middle of the season, referring to the 60th consecutive week that U of L stayed in the top-20 of national rankings. “It’s a level of respect around the country, that they’re starting to look more consistently at our team collectively and individually.”
From the start of fall play, the Cards have spent most time ranked in the top-20. They ended the season ranked No. 12, though not proving enough for the NCAA bid.
Here’s a few takeaways from the season and the biggest reasons that field hockey was likely left out of the NCAAs.
Can’t beat those Demon Deacons
The ACC is the toughest field hockey conference in the country. North Carolina, given the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, earned the automatic-bid for winning the conference.
Other than the Tarheels, there were three at-large bids given to ACC Schools: No. 2 Duke, No. 16 Virginia and No. 20 Wake Forest.
Louisville (3-3 in conference play) technically finished ahead of Wake Forest (2-4) and Virginia (2-4) in the regular season ACC standings. The Cards beat the Cavaliers during their only regular season meeting, but the same cannot but said of the Deacons.
No. 20 Wake Forest ended Louisville’s run in the ACC tournament last week. The Demon Deacons defeated the Cardinals 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
U of L lost to Wake during the regular season as well. The Deacons dealt the Cards their second ACC loss in an away game in Winston-Salem on Sept. 21.
These two losses are most likely the main reasons that Sowry’s team was denied an NCAA bid. Wake performed better head-to-head with Louisville, so they were given the advantage.
Virginia, however, is the head-scratcher. The Cavaliers finished with an 8-8 regular season record compared to the Cardinals’ 13-6.
What the selection committee probably took into account was RPI ranking (rating percentage index). Virginia finished the season ranked No. 12 in RPI compared to Louisville at No. 20. The Cavaliers also advanced further in the ACC tournament.
Sowry is one of the more successful coaches on campus
Justine Sowry has built U of L field hockey into one of the more talented programs in the nation, not to mention one of the most talented teams on campus.
The coach has led her squad to four consecutive NCAA tournaments prior to 2018, a conference title and a runner-up finished in last year’s ACC Championship.
In addition, Sowry won her 100th career game as a Cardinal coach earlier this season. If there is anyone who will continue to build up the program and bring U of L back to the NCAAs, it’s Justine Sowry.
U of L has become a training ground for the best in the nation
Last year saw the program increase its growing number of All-American selections. Nicole Woods, Ayeisha McFerran and Taylor Stone each earned the honor in 2017.
McFerran and Stone returned this year for their final senior seasons. McFerran, undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers in the world, posted five shutouts and earned first team All-ACC honors this season.
This season was also the last for senior Katie Walsh, who dished out a team-high nine assists and earned second team All-ACC honors.
Most encouraging about the current field hockey program is the success of underclassmen.
Sophomore Bethany Russ led the team this season with 11 goals, earning second team All-ACC honors. Freshman Erica Cooper followed close behind with nine goals.
Mercedes Pastor earned first team All-ACC honors. The sophomore posted four goals, including one double-overtime game-winner, and played every game with an extremely talented presence in the midfield.
“We’ve had a lot of success as a team and certainly individually,” Sowry said. “To have three All-Americans in one year is huge. It says a lot about the quality of players we’re recruiting and the hard work they’re putting in to become the great players they are.”
It’s disappointing that field hockey missed out on the NCAA tournament, especially since some of the games will be held on campus.
Bid or no bid, Louisville fans can expect Sowry to continue building the program to new heights. If you have yet to see the Cardinals play at Trager Stadium, then you should make it a point to show out next fall and witness the growth of a great sport.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal