McNeil makes history in 1st season at Merrimack

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Mary McNeil was the Northeast-10 Conference's top rookie in 2015. (Jim Stankiewicz photo)

Mary McNeil was the Northeast-10 Conference’s top rookie in 2015. (Jim Stankiewicz photo)

It’s not often that Canton’s Mary McNeil gets to be the first in her family to accomplish an athletic feat, but the third youngest of 11 siblings recently did just that as she helped guide the Merrimack College field hockey team to the brink of an NCAA national championship.

With the former Bulldog standout anchoring the offense at center forward as a true freshman, the sixth-ranked Warriors (16-6) made it all the way to the NCAA Division II national finals in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where they gave the No. 1 team in the country all that it could handle before bowing out in overtime on a penalty stroke.

“It was close throughout the whole game,” McNeil said of the heartbreaking November 22 loss to East Stroudsburg (PA). “They were a very talented team. I think when it got to overtime it could have gone either way, but we had our chances in the game and we got some penalty corners; we just couldn’t finish.”

One of Merrimack’s best scoring chances came in the opening half courtesy of McNeil, whose shot off a deflection sailed just high of the crossbar. Still, the bulk of the game’s chances ultimately belonged to the other Warriors team as East Stroudsburg peppered Merrimack senior goalie Madison Davis, who was outstanding in the losing effort and made a season-high 11 saves.

When it was over, McNeil said the team was understandably disappointed but also grateful for the opportunity and proud of what they were able to accomplish in a historic 2015 season.

“Going into the preseason my coach (Anne Rounce) just said from the beginning that we have a lot of talent, and our goal was to make it to the final four,” said McNeil. “The fact that we made it to the national championship game was amazing.”

Indeed, the Warriors’ NCAA finals appearance was not only a first in the history of the field hockey program; it was also the first national championship appearance for any Merrimack athletic team in more than 20 years.

Along the way, the Warriors won 16 games — including seven against nationally ranked opponents — while outscoring the opposition 59-27. They also went a perfect three for three against Northeast-10 Conference foe Stonehill (14-7), culminating in a thrilling 1-0 win in Bloomsburg in the national semifinals.

As for McNeil, she was sensational in her debut season, earning All-NE-10 First Team honors and becoming just the third Merrimack field hockey player to win the conference Rookie of the Year Award.

A former three-sport captain at Canton High School (field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse), McNeil led the Warriors in almost every offensive category this season, including goals with 14 and assists with 11. She also notched her first career hat trick against Southern Connecticut on October 7 and finished third overall in the conference with 39 total points.

Going into the season, McNeil said her two goals for 2015 were to contribute to the team and make an immediate impact, and it is safe to say that she achieved both aims.

She also proved that she could handle the big moments, and she continued her stellar play in the tournament, notching an assist on both of the team’s game-winning goals, including one in overtime in a 2-1 victory over Adelphi University.

Personally, McNeil said her favorite moment this season was Merrimack’s final four victory over the Stonehill Skyhawks, a longtime NE-10 rival and winner of this year’s conference tournament.

Stonehill, coincidentally, is also the alma mater of three of McNeil’s siblings: Patty and Lisa, who both played field hockey there and were members of the 2005 squad that made it to the NCAA Final Four, and Sean, who was a four-year member and key contributor on the Stonehill men’s ice hockey team.

Mary is actually the eighth member of the McNeil clan to play for a college sports team, following in the footsteps of her mom, Kathleen, who played field hockey at UMass Dartmouth, and her dad Stephen, who played baseball and ice hockey at Bowdoin. In addition, her oldest sister, Lauren, played field hockey at Merrimack, while sister Michelle just wrapped up a successful four-year career as a member of the Holy Cross Crusaders.

Mary said she and Michelle, who are just a few years apart, talked often this season and attended several of each other’s games. And while Mary’s team had the higher win total and the postseason success, she was quick to praise Michelle, who, as a senior captain, guided Holy Cross to its highest win total in almost a decade while also earning All-Patriot League Second Team honors.

Reflecting on her own experiences this year as a college freshman, Mary said it was a big transition but she is grateful to her teammates and coaches for helping to make it a smooth and enjoyable one.

“[College athletics] is definitely more competitive and it’s a lot more serious,” she said. “But all of my teammates are on the same page, and we’re all there because we love the sport. They’re like my second family.”

Overall, McNeil said her first season at Merrimack was an “amazing” ride and she is hoping for continued success in the years to come.

“My coaches and my teammates, they made this season unforgettable,” she said. “Coming into the season I didn’t even know what the final four was. And while it was unfortunate that we lost, I just look back on all of the memories and how amazing our season did go.”

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avatar Posted by on Dec 2 2015. Filed under Beyond CHS, Sports. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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