Blue Hen hockey team nips Princeton 3-2, heads to NCAA Finals vs. UNC

Delaware players Meghan Winesett (left) and Esmee Peet celebrate the Hens’ semifinal win over Princeton on Friday. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Delaware players Meghan Winesett (left) and Esmee Peet celebrate the Hens’ semifinal win over Princeton on Friday. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NORFOLK, Va. – The Blue Hens will make their first-ever appearance in the NCAA National Championship this coming Sunday following Friday’s 3-2 semifinals victory over Princeton at Old Dominion’s L.R. Hill Sports Complex.
No. 8 Delaware will now face No. 4 North Carolina at 1 p.m. Sunday as the Hens vie for their first NCAA title.  The Tar Heels (20-5) earned their spot in the final game of the season with a 2-1 overtime win against Connecticut earlier in the day Friday.

Senior Esmée Peet netted two goals for the Blue Hens, including the game-winner with less than two minutes remaining.  With her tallies, the midfielder moves up in the Delaware record books and is now fourth all-time with 119 points and 48 goals.

“This is what we’ve worked for the entire year,” said Blue Hen head coach Rolf van de Kerkhof. “We’ve gotten better throughout every game we’ve played. Princeton is a great team with a great tradition of hockey and we had to dig deep to do what we had to do, but we got it done. At the end of the day, there’s only one tournament in the country that you want to be dancing in, and I love “November Madness” as it relates to field hockey. For us to compete for a NCAA Tournament Championship, of course it’s exciting, but with this group we celebrate until midnight and then we go back about our business.  This group has taken ownership of that approach and they’re level-headed and ready to go.”

Peet registered the first goal of the game at 15:05 off the penalty corner with assists coming from classmates Maura Zarkoski and Kayla Devlin before Princeton responded just 51 seconds later with a tally from Ryan McCarthy.

“This is unreal,” said Peet. “To have the opportunity to set and reach our goals is simply amazing. This group is so connected this year. We all want to work for each other and play for each other, so we feel like we can face any opponent at any time. We’ll do anything for this program because we love to play the game and we love to play for each other.

“It’s just amazing,” said sophomore Greta Nauck. “I can’t really believe it. To be competing for a championship is just a feeling I can’t really describe.  You have to believe in yourself and fight the entire 70 minutes. The game isn’t over until the clock says zero and we fought every minute today. Anything is possible.”

Sophomore Kiki Bink gave the Hens the 2-1 advantage in the 55th minute as the defender redirected the shot from classmate Greta Nauck.

The Tigers (12-8) would not back down however as Cat Caro connected on a penalty corner in the 67th minute to tie things at 2-2.

With a man down due to a yellow card, the Hens found their way back on top as senior Meghan Winesett sent the ball into a wide-open Peet at the stroke with 1:30 left on the clock.
Delaware improves to 22-2 during its historic season and has now won 18 straight games since losing at Princeton on Sept. 11.

Junior goalie Emmeline Oltmans picked up three saves for the Hens while Bink was credited with a defensive save.

Tigers freshman Grace Baylis notched two saves of her own.

Notes

Delaware is 7-7 all-time in NCAA Tournament action with appearances in 1982, 1988, 2004, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 … UD last competed in a national championship game in 1978 when the Blue Hens played West Chester in the AIAW title contest. Current North Carolina head coach Karen Shelton was West Chester’s team captain that season … The Blue Hens take a slight edge in the all-time series against Princeton at 14-13-3 … Greta Nauck now sits with 99 career points on 42 goals and 15 assists.

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.