Dartmouth enters ECAC tourney looking for gold
Will the third time be a charm?
That is what the Dartmouth softball team is hoping as it looks forward to a third consecutive appearance in the East Coast Athletic Conference Tournament, which takes place next Saturday and Sunday at Soldier Field in Cambridge, Mass.
The conference confirmed widely held speculation when it announced the field for this year's tournament early yesterday afternoon from the league headquarters on Cape Cod.
All four participants are from the Ivy League. Harvard, picked to host, is seeded first, followed by Cornell, Dartmouth and Columbia.
"We're really excited," Dartmouth head coach Steffany Bender, a member of the selection committee, said soon after the announcement. "Overall, we're having a great year. As far as what we did in the Ivy League, I think this was a tough year for a lot of teams. The fact that the ECAC tournament includes four Ivy teams gives us a great chance to prove ourselves again."
Softball aficionados had long suspected that the tournament would be an all-Ivy affair, primarily because most other Division I leagues hold their own tournaments next weekend to determine their champions and NCAA automatic-bid winners.
The Ivy League, however, does not have its own postseason tournament, leaving its teams as some of the only viable candidates for ECAC consideration.
That's why the league's second- through fifth-place teams -- Princeton finished first and will look forward to NCAAs -- all got in.
"It's never a good thing to expect something," Bender said of her anticipation in the hours and minutes leading up to the announcement. "I woke up still nervous this morning, wanting to hear it for sure. We put up the numbers to warrant an ECAC bid, so the fact that we got in is a good thing."
Asked about the selection process, Bender said: "I can't really talk about the process as a member of the selection committee. The fact that it is this weekend is interesting and is something that the ECAC is going to look at one day down the road. But that's neither here nor there. That's something for the future."
The all-Ivy field should add some intensity to the tournament, as all of the teams are natural rivals.
Each faced each other twice in Ivy action during the regular season. Dartmouth got swept by Harvard and split doubleheaders with both Cornell and Columbia.
The Big Red also beat the Big Green in a nonconference game during the teams' spring-training trips to Florida.
"I think it makes it really exciting to have four Ivy teams," Bender said. "Some reaction has been, 'Oh, wouldn't it be nice to have another team in there.' Personally, I'm thrilled it's all Ivy teams. It says a lot for our league and gives us a chance to put ourselves on the line and prove ourselves against some of our biggest rivals. I think the caliber of play will be exceptional."
The double-elimination tournament will begin Saturday morning at 10 a.m. when top-seeded Harvard and fourth-seeded Columbia square off. That game will be followed by second-seeded Cornell against third-seeded Dartmouth at noon.
At 2 p.m., the losers of the first two games will do battle, and then a 4 p.m. game between the winners from the first and second games will complete the first day's action.
On Sunday, the action again begins at 10 a.m. with the semifinals. The championship will take place at noon.
"I'm thrilled to be in the ECAC tournament once again," tri-captain Sarah Damon '02 said. "It's more exciting this year than ever, knowing that we have another chance to bring home the hardware, especially against three other Ivy League teams. On behalf of the team, we are psyched."
According to Bender, while all facets of her squad must be clicking next weekend, a key a championship run will be hitting the ball.
"The bottom line is that you have to play good defense, and you have to pitch well," the coach said. "For us, our challenge all year long is to make sure that we put up enough runs. We have to make sure we score enough runs every game."
The Big Green received more good news yesterday afternoon, as the Ivy League announced its postseason honorees.
Damon was the first-team All-Ivy centerfielder, thanks to her .368 batting average, which included 13 doubles and two triples. She also scored 23 runs and had 19 RBI.
Three players were given an All-Ivy honorable mention -- first baseman Kisa Brannen '03, catcher Jodee Thompson '05 and pitcher Lisa Caruso '04.
"It's an honor to be selected on the first team," Damon said in a phone interview from her residence in Topliff Hall. "My goal was to play really well this season and not think about awards, but this is a great way to end my final year as a collegiate player."