By Mike McMahon
---- — Over the course of any season, certain losses will stick in the craw of any athlete. For Candace Waldie and the Merrimack College field hockey team, that would be a 4-3 double-overtime loss to Long Island University-Post back in October.
“They’re a great team but that was a really close game and I know we want another shot at them,” said Waldie, a former North Andover High great.
The Warriors will get another shot today (12:30 p.m.) when they once again stand across the field from the Pioneers in the NCAA national semifinals at the USA Field Hockey Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va.
This is Merrimack’s third year in a row in the Final Four. There are 27 teams nationally in Division 2.
Merrimack (14-5) gave Post (20-0) its biggest scare of the season on Oct. 6 in New York. The Warriors tied the score on a Waldie goal in the 52nd minute before Carlee Dragon won it for the Pioneers on a penalty corner in double OT.
“We have a lot of experience being (here),” Waldie said, “but at the same time, it’s still exciting. I wouldn’t say there are nerves, but this is the first year all of the divisions will be in the same place, so it definitely feels like a bigger event. It’s the first time we’ve had to fly to a Final Four, so it’s a new experience but at the same time we know what to expect and we’re ready. We won’t be surprised by anything we see.”
UMass Lowell, the longtime power in the NE-10, left the conference this year for America East (Division 1) and the Warriors were picked No. 1 in the preseason coaches poll.
Still, with heavy graduation losses, a third straight Final Four wasn’t going to be easy.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to go this far,” Waldie said. “I know we were picked first but I think that might have just been because we had success in the past. I know a lot of people looked at what we graduated and thought this would be a down year or that we wouldn’t be able to repeat. That was a little bit of motivation. We graduated a lot of great players.
“I think that brought us together, though. We knew we’d have to change the way we played a little bit and be more of a team. We couldn’t just rely on a few girls to really get us to where we wanted to go, it was going to take everyone.”
That’s evident looking at Merrimack’s numbers.
Waldie leads the team with 46 points (17 goals, 12 assists), but that’s actually 15 less than she had last season. Six Warriors have scored double-digit points and 13 different players have potted goals, including six with at least five.
“It makes us harder to play against,” Waldie said. “You can’t just key on one person. I know there have been games where I’ve struggled, and then someone like Jessica (Otis) steps up with a big goal or someone else. You’re not going to be perfect all of the time, so if you’re having a down day or if the defense is really keying on you, you know there are a bunch of other girls who will be able to score a big goal. That’s how we’ve been able to do it all year.”
Merrimack struggled out of the gate, starting the season 2-3. Three of Merrimack’s losses have come by just one goal and it beat No. 5 Stonehill, on the road, in the NCAA quarterfinals last week.
“It took us a while to get going,” Waldie said, “but luckily we were able to get it figured out.”