Last year Colby was fighting its way up. Until 2008 Middlebury had won every NESCAC tournament ever held—seven in a row after the conference launched the championship series in 2000. But, following last year’s dramatic underdog victory, this year Colby played like the defending champion it was.
Following a loss to Tufts in the second game of the 2009 campaign, the team went without a defeat over the next 15 games, right through the NESCAC tourney. Among many highlights: beating the number-one D. III team in the nation, Salisbury, March 24. That victory, plus a triple-overtime 10-9 win over Middlebury three days later and a parade of subsequent victories earned the Mules a number-two national ranking in mid-April, and they entered the postseason ranked third.
The repeat championship was an extraordinary accomplishment for coach Karen MacCrate Henning, whose teams won NESCAC laurels in both her first and second years coaching at Colby. She attributed a good measure of the success to this year’s seven seniors. “When you have your strongest players being your hardest workers, they set the tone,” she said.
Henning had won two national championships in Div. II at C.W. Post before she came to Colby. Co-captain and four-time All-American Kate Sheridan ’09, who has played at a very high level since she was in fifth grade, said of Henning, “I’ve never had a coach whose knowledge of the game is so impressive.”
But Sheridan also perceived that mixing a new coach with a team so tightly bonded that players describe it as “like a family” could be tricky, and she credited Henning for deftly navigating the intricacies of introducing a new system while respecting the traditions and bonds already in place.
Co-captain Cary Finnegan ’09, who was also Student Government Association vice president, described the arc of the team’s rising fortunes when she recalled conversations with Sheridan in their first two years: “We would say, ‘If we could just beat Middlebury once before we graduate.’”
They got their wish in the championship game in 2008, then beat Middlebury twice this year—in three overtimes during the regular season, then with a more convincing 17-12 victory in the NESCAC semifinal. (Ultimately Middlebury’s Panthers would exact a measure of revenge in the NCAA regional semifinal on May 9, but it would require a complete retooling of their game plan to do so.)
The Mules secured the NESCAC championship with a 12-10 win over Williams in the final, a game Williams led at halftime. Colby finished the season ranked eighth in NCAA Division III, behind Middlebury (6) and Tufts (7), despite the NESCAC championship.
Nor were all of the team’s triumphs on the field. Sheridan, a two-time NESCAC Player of the Year who broke more scoring records than there is room to report here, and Finnegan volunteered as co-leaders of a Hardy Girls coalition-building group, working with 11 fourth grade girls in Vassalboro. The experience propelled Finnegan to try her hand at teaching after graduation, and she will be working for Teach For American in Hartford, Conn. Sheridan had a plan that included a job in Australia that would allow her to play for a club lacrosse team Down Under this year.
And how does Coach Henning see her third act shaping up, after graduating seven seniors?
“I’m excited about next year,” she said. “These players have been in the shadows of the senior class.” She noted that Amy Campbell ’10 was a first-team All-NESCAC and Caroline Duke ’10 was a second-team All-American, both as juniors, and Kathleen Kramer ’10 was NESCAC player of the week in March, so there’s plenty of talent returning.
“It’s a little unusual,” Henning said. “I’m not sure who’s going to step up and want to drive.”