NCAA Women’s D-III Tournament Quarterfinals Preview

And then there were eight.

Since October, 50 teams have been playing for the chance to make it to the NCAA tournament and now they’ve been whittled down to an elite group of eight. Once again, there are the traditional faces of Plattsburgh, Norwich, Gustavus Adolphus, Middlebury and Wisconsin-River Falls making up more than half of the field. Bowdoin and Elmira are also making reappearances in the big dance. Elmira missed the NCAAs the last two seasons after losing back-to-back years in the ECAC West Play-In round. Bowdoin hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2005, but the Polar Bears are back this year after winning the NESCAC title with a 2-1 upset of Middlebury.

For the fifth straight year there is also a “new kid on the block” joining the field, with St. Norbert’s Cinderella run to the NCHA title in just its third season as a program. The Green Knights join Norwich (2009), Trinity (2010), Adrian (2011) and Concordia-Moorhead (2012) to keep the streak alive of at least one team making its first NCAA tournament appearance in consecutive years.

There are a number of storylines heading into this tournament, with perhaps the biggest being the potential for two unbeaten teams to meet for the first time in the Division III National Championship with Plattsburgh (25-0-2) and Gustavus Adolphus (26-0-1) both without a loss so far.

St. Norbert (18-9-2) at Plattsburgh (25-0-2)
How they got here: St. Norbert won its first O’Brien Cup title with a 3-2 overtime upset win at No. 1 Wis.-River Falls to punch its first ticket to the NCAA tournament. Plattsburgh won its third ECAC West Tournament and its first since 2007 with a 4-2 win over longtime archrival Elmira.
All-time series: St. Norbert and Plattsburgh have never met in women’s hockey. However, the St. Norbert men defeated Plattsburgh, 2-0, in 2008 to win its first-ever national championship in Lake Placid.
By the numbers:
Goals scored per game — St. Norbert: 3.31 (10th)  Plattsburgh: 4.78 (first)
Goals against per game — St. Norbert: 2.34 (21st) Plattsburgh: 1.00 (first)
Power play — St. Norbert: 18.1 percent (18th) Plattsburgh: 31.4 percent (first)
Penalty kill — St. Norbert: 83.6 percent (28th) Plattsburgh: 89.9 percent (fifth)
Penalty minutes — St. Norbert: 10.0 (14th) Plattsburgh: 6.8 (45th)
Key players:
St. Norbert — The Green Knights are paced by a strong junior class, with its six top scorers all with the program since its inception in 2010-11. Henriette Ostergaard leads the way with 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points. Karissa Anderson is right behind her with 14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points, while Zoe Hurth (11-9-20) and Andrea Senne (10-8-18) are each in double digits for goals as well. Kaley Gibson has been St. Norbert’s horse between the pipes, compiling a 17-8-2 record with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
Plattsburgh — The Cardinals are led by arguably the nation’s top player and odds-on favorite for the Laura Hurd Award in senior forward Teal Gove. Gove leads the nation with 25 goals and 21 assists for 46 points. She’s complemented by sophomore Shannon Stewart (20-17-37), as well as juniors Jenny Kistner (11-20-31) and Allison Era (12-14-26). Junior goaltender Sydney Aveson ranks among the nation’s leaders in every goaltending category. She’s compiled a 21-0-2 record with a 1.12 goals-against average and a.939 save percentage to go along with eight shutouts.

Middlebury (18-7-2) at Norwich (22-3-3)
How they got here: Middlebury earned one of the three at-large bids into the NCAA tournament despite losing, 2-1, to Bowdoin in the NESCAC Tournament finals. The Panthers won the NESCAC regular season title and are making their record 11th NCAA tournament appearance out of the 12 years it’s been sponsored. Norwich won its second straight ECAC East Tournament title and fourth in the last five seasons with a 3-0 win over archrival Manhattanville. The Cadets outscored their three ECAC East Tournament opponents, 14-0.
All-time series: Norwich leads the all-time series with Middlebury, 3-0-1. The two teams tied, 2-2, in their first-ever meeting in 2010. Norwich has won every meeting since then, including a 5-3 win earlier this season at Middlebury. The two teams have never met in the NCAA tournament though.
By the numbers:
Goals scored per game — Middlebury: 3.26 (11th)  Norwich: 4.71 (second)
Goals against per game — Middlebury: 1.70 (ninth) Norwich: 1.36 (fourth)
Power play — Middlebury: 24.2 percent (fifth) Norwich: 26.4 percent (third)
Penalty kill — Middlebury: 85.9 percent (16th) Norwich:  87.2 percent (ninth)
Penalty minutes — Middlebury: 6.1 (50th) Norwich: 7.5 (42nd)
Key players:
Middlebury — The Panthers are led by a trio of sophomores, including playmaking forward Hannah Bielawski (9-21-30), as well as leading goal scorer Emily Fluke (16-12-28) and Katie Sullivan (10-12-22). Senior forward Lauren Greer has 10 goals and eight assists for 18 points, and was Middlebury’s leading point scorer the last two seasons. Senior defenseman Madison Styrbicki (3-13-16) leads the defense corps, and was an All-American last season. In goal, sophomore Annabelle Jones has played the most, posting a 10-3-2 record with a 1.40 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage.
Norwich — Norwich boasts the nation’s leading goal scorer in junior Tori Charron, who has 30 goals in 27 games this season. She has scored 76 goals in 78 career games, and was named the ECAC East Player of the Year. Senior co-captain Jillayne DeBus (14-23-37) is a returning All-American, and rounds out Charron’s line with Renee Lortie (12-17-29). Junior defenseman Kayla Parsons (11-15-26) is coming off earning the ECAC East Tournament Most Valuable Player honors. In between the pipes, senior goalie Kelly Fisk has started the last four games in net for the Cadets and currently carries a 210:40 consecutive minutes shutout streak into Saturday’s tilt. Fisk is 10-2-1 with a 1.44 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.

Elmira (21-5-1) at Bowdoin (21-4-2)
How they got here: Elmira earned another one of the three at-large bids after making its first ECAC West championship game appearance since 2010 before falling, 4-2, to Plattsburgh. Three of Elmira’s five losses on the season have come to their top-ranked archrival Cardinals, with the other two coming at the hands of Middlebury. Bowdoin is coming off winning its first NESCAC Tournament title since 2004. The Polar Bears won 20 or more games in each of their first four NCAA seasons. However, they haven’t been back to the NCAAs since 2005 until this season, when they earned an auto bid by beating Middlebury, 2-1, in the NESCAC finals.
All-time series: Elmira leads the all-time series with Bowdoin, 2-0-1. The Soaring Eagles have won the last two meetings by a score of 5-4 each time, with the last meeting coming on Dec. 2, 2006. Bowdoin was one of just two blemishes on Elmira’s otherwise perfect record against Division III schools in 2002-03, with a 2-2 tie at the Utica Holiday Inn Classic.
By the numbers:
Goals scored per game — Elmira: 4.22 (fourth)  Bowdoin: 3.41 (ninth)
Goals against per game — Elmira: 1.11 (2nd) Bowdoin: 1.44 (fifth)
Power play — Elmira: 18.9 percent (16th) Bowdoin: 20.7 percent (13th)
Penalty kill — Elmira: 91.6 percent (2nd) Bowdoin:  85.9 percent (17th)
Penalty minutes — Elmira: 8.1 (37th) Bowdoin: 7.6 (39th)
Key players:
Elmira — The Soaring Eagles have one of the tournament’s most balanced scoring offenses. Elmira has eight players with 19 or more points, led by Ashley Ryan’s 15 goals and 11 assists for 26 points. Sophomore Ashton Hogan leads the squad with 18 goals and seven assists for 25 points, while junior Tanis Lamoureux has 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points. Seniors Sam Curk (4-16-20) and Caitlin Metcalf (10-9-19) round out the top-five scorers. In goal, senior Lauren Sullivan has emerged as the No. 1 goalie down the stretch, compiling a 12-4-1 record with a .932 save percentage and a 1.23 goals-against average.
Bowdoin — The Polar Bears match up well with Elmira, as they also have a pretty balanced offense led by freshman sensation and NESCAC Rookie of the Year Rachel Kennedy (16-14-30). Senior Kayte Holtz (13-15-28) and sophomore Chelsea MacNeil (13-12-25) have each chipped in effectively. Seniors Kim Tess-Wanat (8-16-24) and Stephanie Ludy (14-9-23) round out the Polar Bears top-five scoring leaders. Senior Kayla Lessard has been one of the nation’s top goaltenders, compiling a 15-3-2 record with a 1.25 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.

Wis.-River Falls (21-6-2) at Gustavus Adolphus (26-0-1)
How they got here: Wis.-River Falls earned the third and final at-large bid into the NCAA tournament after winning the NCHA regular season title for the third year in a row and fourth in the last five. The Falcons were upset, 3-2, by St. Norbert in the NCHA Championship, which marked the second time in the last three years Wis.-River Falls lost the O’Brien Cup on home ice. Gustavus Adolphus continued its unprecedented dominance of the MIAC, winning its 10th straight MIAC Tournament title and ninth straight regular season title. The Gusties beat Concordia (Minn.), 4-1, in the MIAC Championship.
All-time series: Gustavus Adolphus leads the all-time series, 17-4-3, over Wis.-River Falls. This year marks the fifth straight year the two schools will meet in the NCAA Quarterfinals. Gustavus Adolphus has ended River Falls’ season each of the last three years in the quarterfinal round. The Falcons’ last win against the Gusties in the postseason came in 2009 by a score of 2-1. Gustavus Adolphus won both meetings earlier this year in a home-and-home series on back-to-back nights, 2-1 and 3-2.
By the numbers:
Goals scored per game — Wis.-River Falls: 4.69 (third)  Gustavus Adolphus: 3.52 (seventh)
Goals against per game — Wis.-River Falls: 1.55 (sixth) Gustavus Adolphus: 1.15 (third)
Power play — Wis.-River Falls: 26.2 percent (fourth) Gustavus Adolphus: 22.7 percent (seventh)
Penalty kill — Wis.-River Falls: 86.7 percent (12th) Gustavus Adolphus:  88.5 percent (seventh)
Penalty minutes — Wis.-River Falls: 8.6 (29th) Gustavus Adolphus: 6.3 (48th)
Key players:
River Falls — The Falcons are one of the top offensive teams in the country, led by junior Kait Mason’s 20 goals and 16 assists for 36 points. Freshman Chloe Kinsel has 18 goals and 14 assists for 32 points, while juniors Katie Batters (21-10-31) and Brook Story (10-18-28) have been major factors in the offensive production. Sophomores Crysta Lowell (11-14-25) and Alice Cranston (9-15-24) round out the top-six scorers for Wis.-River Falls. In goal, junior Ashley Kuechle and freshman Gillian McDonald have pretty much split the time. Kuechle is 8-4-1 with a 1.77 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. McDonald is 11-2-1 with a 1.62 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
Gustavus Adolphus — Despite losing three First Team All-Americans from a year ago, the Gusties are still rolling, led by senior forward/defenseman Lindsey Hjelm (13-14-27). Freshman forward Allison Eder-Zdechlik (14-10-24) has been one of the nation’s top rookies, while senior Meagan Wanecke has an even 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points. Sophomore Carolyn Draayer (13-7-20) rounds out the Gusties’ offensive leaders. Freshman Lindsey Hibbard has taken the reins of the No. 1 goalie job at Gustavus this season, posting a 15-0-1 record with a 1.35 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.