Field hockey upsets two top-10 teams

There isn’t too much a team can do to transcend defeating the No. 7-ranked team in the country, but the College’s field hockey team found a way as they upset No. 5-ranked Messiah College at Lions Stadium on Oct. 1.

Four days after the team was led by junior forward Caitlyn Jenkins in a 2-1 victory over Ursinus College, the Lions (8-1) took down Messiah (5-3) by the same score.

“We’ve beaten some good teams,” senior goalkeeper Shannon Syciarz said. “It means a lot because it puts us in great shape for our regional ranking, which will help us in the postseason.”

The Lions wasted little time getting on the board, with senior defender Alex Okuniewicz taking advantage of a pass from junior defender Christy Wham 1:18 into the match.

“We had good solid touches, (the penalty corner) was well played,” Okuniewicz said. “And we just were able to capitalize on it.”

The rest of the half was marked by an inability to create scoring opportunities, which put a lot of pressure on the Lions defense. Smelling blood in the water, the Falcons brought on an able-bodied attack, but the Lions had an answer for everything that was thrown at them.

“I just think that we all just took a lot of trust in each other at that point.” Okuniewicz said. “We weren’t crazy in the backfield. When a team goes up like that it’s easy to be crazy and psychotic, but on defense we didn’t lose our formation, we just held and kept our calm. That’s what pushed us forward.”

The Lions were also pushed forward by a terrific performance from Syciarz, who made several acrobatic saves.

Head coach Sharon Pfluger praised her goalkeeper and defense, but admitted that some of that offensive pressure was self-inflicted.

“I thought we held up really strong and we had some great plays during (the end of the first half), but I think perhaps we created playing that deep defense more than we really should have,” Pfluger said. “But, when push came to shove, we came up with the ball, but I just think we probably needed to play better prior to that.”

The Lions delivered some offensive relief early in the second half as freshman forward Erin Healy tipped in a shot from Wham.

“Wham had a beautiful shot from the top of the circle on a corner and I knew I just had to focus on my stick on the ground and making sure I got that ball,” Healy said.

Wham has been an asset to the Lions in the passing game so far this season, leading the team with six assists.

“Wham’s really tough and she never gives up.” Pfluger said. “She does as much as she can out there and she has great stick work.”

Messiah came on with another onslaught after Healy’s goal, which led to the Falcons knocking the lead down to one with nearly 12 minutes left. The Lions’ defense stepped up yet again, however, and held off Messiah down the stretch to secure a 2-1 victory.

The team gets ready before facing Messiah. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Nitzsche)

“We definitely stayed steady in the backfield, which is huge,” Syciarz said. “They got a couple of shots off, they were putting a lot of pressure on us, but we stayed strong. We had a lot of talk and a lot of communication in the backfield, and when there was a loose ball, we made sure it was getting out.”

The Lions accomplished the upset, despite losing freshman midfielder/forward Victoria Martin to injury early in the first half.

“We had to make the adjustment and I think we were OK for awhile, but they were really coming down and slipping through the midfield too quickly, so I definitely think it affected us,” Pfluger said.

Another highlight in the Lions’ victory came late in the second half when junior midfielder/forward Kathleen Notos — last year’s leading scorer who was been sidelined by an injury — made her season debut.

The Lions face another hefty challenge this week as they host No. 1-ranked Salisbury University on Sunday, Oct. 9, after traveling to Neumann University on Oct. 6.