Darien’s Marissa Baker, Middlebury field hockey repeat as national champs

Darien’s Marissa Baker in action for the Middlebury Panthers. Baker and the Panthers defeated Tufts 2-0 on Sunday to win their second straight NCAA Div. III championship. — Middlebury Athletics photo

For the second consecutive season and third time in the last four years, Darien’s Marissa Baker and the Middlebury Panthers’ field hockey team are national champions.

The Panthers (21-1) claimed their latest title with a 2-0 shutout of the Tufts Jumbos (19-3) in the NCAA Div. III final Sunday at the Spooky Nook complex in Manheim, Pa. Middlebury set a school record with 21 wins, and all three of Tufts’ losses were to the Panthers.

Sophomore Erin Nicholas scored once in each half of the final and the defense was unbreakable while nailing down the victory.

Baker, a junior midfielder, was named to the All-Tournament team, and was one of four Panthers to receive a tournament honor. Nicholas, senior goalie Megan Collins and junior midfielder Emma Johns were also named to the All-Tournament team, while senior forward Grace Jennings took Most Outstanding Player honors.

Baker had a goal and four assists in Middlebury’s four tournament games, including a one-goal, two-assist performance during a 5-1 win over the College of New Jersey in the quarterfinals. The 2016 graduate of Darien High School had nine goals and six assists in 17 games this season.

Middlebury was dominating in the NCAA tournament, winning all four games by two or more goals.

The Panthers outscored their opponents by a 19-3 margin, and trailed only once when Rowan scored the first goal 2:52 into their semifinal contest on Saturday. Middlebury’s Jennings tied the score less than four minutes later, and the Panthers took the lead for good when Baker assisted on another Jennings goal at 26:26.

Danielle Brown added another Middlebury goal early in the second half, with Baker again assisting, as the Panthers went on to win 4-2.

In addition to the school-record in victories, Middlebury also set a new program mark with 11 shutouts, including in the national final, and pushed its postseason winning streak to 14 games. The Panthers are also the first school to repeat as national champions since Bowdoin in 2007 and 2008.