Two for the Title: Big Green, Harvard Vie for NCAA Berth

  • Dartmouth College softball coach Shannon Doepking, shown during an April 9, 2017, home game, has guided the Big Green to this weekend's Ivy League championship series. Doepking said she's changed her approach with her players since arriving in Hanover in 2014. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth softball Coach Shanno Doepking, right, stands ready to fist-bump Micah Schroder, middle, Morgan Martinelli, left, and Schae Nelson, second left, as they round the bases after a home-run by Nelson in game two of a weekend series with Brown in Hanover, N.H., Saturday, May 5, 2018. It was Nelson's fifth home-run of the season. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth softball celebrates a game two 8-7 win over Brown at the Dartmouth Softball Park in Hanover, N.H., Saturday, May 5, 2018. The Big Green will play Harvard for the Ivy League Championship next Saturday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2018

Hanover — The Dartmouth College softball team was on a roll as it neared the end of the 2016 Ivy League regular season. With home-and-home doubleheaders remaining against archrival Harvard, the Big Green led the Crimson by a game in the race for the Northern Division title.

On the line for Dartmouth was a trip to its fourth consecutive league championship series and a third consecutive NCAA tournament berth. Included in Dartmouth’s five-player senior class were pitcher Morgan McCalmon and shortstop Katie McEachern, winners of the past two Ivy player of the year awards.

Dartmouth needed to beat Harvard twice to move on. It came down to the final inning of the final game, and the Crimson advanced after scoring that contest’s last four runs in Hanover.

Two years later, it’s Dartmouth and Harvard again, this time in the best-of-three championship series at the base of Velvet Rocks. Reaching this point, however, is no longer something the hosts take for granted. The teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader today beginning at 1 p.m., with a third game starting at noon Sunday if needed.

“Winning (the Ivy title) my first year made me unappreciative of how hard it is to get to this spot,” said fourth-year coach Shannon Doepking, who succeeded Rachel Hanson only a year after beginning her head coaching career at NCAA Division III Amherst. “But now that we’re back here, I think we deserve it, because a lot of hard work went into getting this far.”

Doepking and Hanson, who went on to coach at Stanford for three years before leaving the profession, are friends and not dissimilar. However, the former took over the Big Green with more of a steely demeanor. Doepking said that, driven to prove herself, she sometimes put results before cohesion, but has changed her approach.

“I’m not Rachel and I can’t be Rachel, and I wasn’t always authentic,” Doepking said. “I’ve had to figure out the last four years who Shannon is, sometimes the hard way.”

That’s meant a slightly more gentle approach and a realization that players who care about and trust each other and the coaching staff may have the best chance of winning. Doepking’s certainly no pushover, but she pinpoints character and selflessness more than she used to.

“Those have become huge trademarks of this program and what I’m about as a coach during the past few years,” Doepking said. “For a long time, I thought winning was the end-all, be-all, and it’s really not.

“Your character and who you are as a person and teammate plays a huge part in my decisions (on who plays). I don’t care how talented you are; if you act like a turd, you’re not going to play for me.”

Dartmouth, 22-16 overall and 16-5 in Ivy League play, was picked to finish fifth in the Ancient Eight when the 2018 preseason poll was released in February. The Big Green lost its first five games and finished nonleague play 6-11, then was mercy-ruled during an 8-0 loss at Pennsylvania to open Ivy play. It dropped the first two games of a three-game series with Harvard in Allston, Mass., last month before claiming the third contest.

Harvard (21-16, 14-7) is making its third consecutive ILCS appearance, but hasn’t won an Ivy title since 2012. The Crimson has not played since April 29, concluding its regular season a week earlier than Dartmouth in order to have a break for final exams. Harvard’s Katie Duncan was recently honored as the league’s pitcher of the year, a unanimous selection after going 14-9 with a 2.66 ERA.

“They kind of showed all their cards the last time we played, and I think we’ll be more ready for them this time,” said Doepking, acknowledging that each team relishes the chance to knock the other off. “I don’t care who you are when we step on the field, you’re not our friends and we’re not going to treat you like you are.”

Harvard’s arrival has attracted boisterous crowds in recent years, led by a host of athletes from other Dartmouth teams. At one point two years ago, the home plate umpire refused to continue the action until the home fans toned down their act.

“Heckling is part of our game, just like it is in baseball, but at no point do we want personal attacks,” Doepking said. “We thrive here, and we want a fun environment. We’re going to enjoy the moment, but we’re not going to let it become too big for us.”

Notes: The Big Green has won seven consecutive games and 10 of its last 12. Harvard has lost its last two contests and four of its last five. … Dartmouth’s only Ivy series loss this season was at Harvard. … The Crimson hosted last year’s ILCS but lost to Princeton, making the Tigers the first Ivy team to win the title series on the road. … Dartmouth is 2-1 in league championship matchups, losing at Penn and beating the Quakers and Harvard at home. … The NCAA Division I softball tournament selection show is at 10 p.m. on Sunday on ESPN2. … The Ivy League will crown Harvard as its co-champion should the Crimson prevail this weekend. … Crimson coach Jenny Allard is in her 24th season. She is a former Big 10 Conference player of the year at Michigan and has earned master’s degrees in education and psychology at Harvard. The program has won six Ivy titles and earned five NCAA tournament berths under her direction.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.