Wednesday November 28, 2012 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Hamburg’s Shelby Hall helped the University of Rochester enjoy a historic season for the Division III program. (Photo courtesy of University of Rochester/Salisbury Athletics)
Shelby Hall remembers talking to her field hockey coach at the University of Rochester last spring after what she thought was a disappointing junior season and being encouraged by what Wendy Andreatta predicted for her final year with the program.
“Coach said she thought I would have a big year,” said Hall, a Hamburg native.
Not only was Andreatta correct about Hall’s success in 2012, but as it turned out, the team rallied around the veteran player and came of age during a record-setting season for the program.
Rochester made its first appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament after receiving an at-large bid and knocked off Rowan in the first round before upsetting national perennial-power Salisbury to move on to the Round of Eight.
The season would end there in a national quarterfinal loss but not before Hall and her teammates accomplished first after first for the program during a history-making ride for the Cinderella team from Rochester.
“I’m so excited that I was able to have the year that I had,” said Hall, whose 43 points matched a single-season school record and 17 goals was just one short of setting another Rochester mark. “I had the right ingredients around me to help me have that big season.”
Andreatta knew the potential for Hall to breakout was there ever since she came on to the scene at Rochester as a freshman and was proud to see the Hamburg High School graduate continue to improve and deliver a big season.
“Shelby had an amazing year — her best yet, and played with such confidence, power and skill,” Andreatta said. “She was critical on attack for us and helped us achieve our best season ever.”
Rochester’s biggest season yet included not only the team’s first and second NCAA victories but also a program-record 18 wins, a school-first, second-place finish in the Liberty League and a pair of wins over nationally-ranked Skidmore, first during the regular season and then in the conference tournament semifinals.
“Everyone just seemed to be on board and on the same page,” said Hall, who finished as one of the school’s top all-time career scorers with 93 points. “But we had no idea what was in store. It was an unreal experience that I will never forget.”
There were some doubts at the beginning of the year after U of R graduated two All-American attackers in Allison Beardsley and Anna Dobrzynski. However, Andreatta was confident that Hall could go from more of a playmaker in transition and creator of offense to using her speed and scoring ability to become a finisher.
In their offseason conversation, Andreatta told Hall she could be just as dominant of a scorer as past All-Americans. All she needed was a little extra confidence in her ability to score and take that critical shot when driving to the net in the circle, Andreatta noted.
“She has always played an important role on the forward line, but in more of an assist and passing capacity,” said Andreatta, who added that Hall sees the field very well. “This year, her explosiveness with her cuts and on the dribble beat almost every defender she came up against. Shelby has always had a great initial shot and finishing ability around the goal. She had some amazing goals for us this year.”
Also helping was the emergence of freshman Michelle Relin, who worked as a duo with Hall for much of the season in leading the offense. Relin wound up breaking both of the school’s single-season marks with 19 goals and 47 points and was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year.
“Michelle, like Shelby, has great speed, and the two of them combined so well and were neck and neck throughout the season leading the team in goals and assists,” Andreatta said.
Hall was derailed a bit at the end of the season when she suffered a torn hamstring in the final minute of the team’s game at Vassar College. She missed the next five games, including both contests in the conference tournament, which ended with a 3-1 loss to William Smith College in the final.
That loss could have ended U of R’s year and Hall’s career, but because of the team’s body of work during the season, it earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Liberty League received three bids to the 32-team field, including two at-large teams. Hall returned and the team apparently still had some tricks up its sleeve.
“The first question I asked the trainer was, ‘will I be back for the playoffs?,’” Hall said. “The team kept winning for me which was buying me more time to rest.”
Easier said than done, U of R tried to approach the NCAA Tournament as if it were playing on an even field with the rest of the competition, but Hall and her teammates knew they’d have an uphill battle. Still, Rochester fought off Rowan 2-0 in the Round of 32, then pulled one of the tournament’s biggest upsets, sweating out a 3-2 win over Salisbury in the Sweet 16. Montclair State finally ended Rochester’s run in a 2-0 Elite 8 win.
“What was important for us was having the mind-set that everyone was 0-0 from here,” Hall said. “Anyone can beat anyone on any given day. Yes, we were playing some really good teams but we deserved to be there just like them. It was a completely different experience playing against such good teams.”
Hall said she and her teammates had gotten a slight inkling that something special was on the horizon for this team thanks to an 8-0 start. Even after the team dropped three straight one-goal games, Hall and her teammates were encouraged by being able to bounce back in beating perennial-power Skidmore 3-1 on Oct. 5. From there, U of R went on a five-game winning streak up until Hall’s injury.
“There was definitely a point in the season (in Game Four) when we beat Geneseo, who we never beat, by two goals and we looked at each other and said, ‘we’re good,’” Hall remembers. “We thought we could go far. Then when we beat Skidmore, we knew we had something special.”
Hall’s return for the NCAA Tournament was hampered by the injury, which limited her ability to drive to the net and made it difficult for her to play in back-to-back games Nov. 10 and 11 from the Sweet 16 to Round of 8.
“This was something I never could have accounted for and it came at such an inopportune time,” Hall said of the injury. “I wasn’t able to play my style and had to modify my game. I’m explosive but I had to rely on my passing because I couldn’t run or cut as well.”
With or without this memorable season, Hall said she couldn’t have imagined her college experience sans field hockey. She fondly remembers the team bonding during summer trips to Barbados for training.
“This has really been a second family for me,” said Hall, who earned First Team All-Liberty League honors and was selected second team all-region at season’s end. “We worked hard training to go on this run. It’s going to be sad to leave here but I’m excited to see what they do. The program now has a standard to reach and there are high hopes for U of R field hockey from here on out.”
Hall also capped her senior year and successful career by representing Rochester at the NFHCA Division III Senior Game on Saturday (Nov. 17) at William Smith College in Geneva, the site of the 2012 field hockey Final Four. Hall was one of 60 individuals selected for the game.
Off the field, Hall also has plenty to be proud of in her accomplishments. Tackling molecular genetics with focus and diligence, her exemplary work in juggling academics with athletics landed Hall one of the school’s most prestigious of honors.
She was selected to receive the 2012 Lysle “Spike” Garnish Award, which is given to only 10 student-athletes who embody the best of the best at the school both on the field and in the classroom.
“I felt so honored to get that award because academics are so important to me,” said Hall, who also has been named to the Liberty League All-Academic team and been chosen to the NFHCA Scholar-Athlete team. “I just happen to be able to play a sport while getting an education. The fact that I was able to strike a balance is my proudest accomplishment.”