Field hockey wins the NJAC

After sending in the ball on a penalty corner, junior defender Camille Passucci barely had enough time to take a step forward before freshman midfielder Erin Waller directed her shot into the back of the cage.

Passucci jumped around as she celebrated Waller’s goal, but her dance became even more ecstatic minutes later when Waller scored off yet another penalty corner started by Passucci, supplying the College with a 2-0 edge over No. 6-ranked Montclair State University on Nov. 5.

The Lions won the first NJAC tournament for field hockey vs. Montclair. (Lisa Nitzsche / Staff Photographer)

“It was really a team effort,” Passucci said. “It feels great to be a little part of it, but it’s a total team effort for those goals. When one person scores, it feels like we all score.”

Waller scored the only goals of the inaugural New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship Game, but she would not take personal credit.

“We played awesome,” Waller said. “We just wanted to go out and win the entire time and that’s exactly what we did.”

The victory was anything but easy for the No. 4-ranked Lions, however, and their offense struggled to produce early on. In response to that inability to score, the Lions (20-2) had to ask their defense to increase its level of play — a challenge that was met with mastery.

Although the College controlled possession for most of the first half, the Red Hawks (18-2) came on strong offensively several times. Nothing was more threatening than junior Montclair forward Michelle Hagel’s breakaway opportunity 15 minutes into the game.

Hagel slipped past the defense and it looked like she was headed for a one-on-one duel with senior goalkeeper Shannon Syciarz. However, just when it seemed like Hagel was home free, Lauren Pigott propelled herself into the picture.

The freshman defender hustled all the way back just in time to knock the ball away from Hagel and extinguish the advance. The Red Hawks would threaten again toward the end of the first half, but the squad didn’t flinch.

“You have to play like that,” Head Coach Sharon Pfluger said. “There’s no give in that situation. You have to play, you have to come through.”

The team took down Kean 5-1 before facing Montclair. (Lisa Nitzsche / Staff Photographer)

Coming through on offense was an issue for the Lions in the first half as they failed to capitalize on six penalty corners and seven shots. Pfluger reacted by reassuring her team that they just needed to keep the pressure on and good things would come.

“We were on goal for a while,” Pfluger said. “I told them that they were playing great at halftime and that they just needed to get the reward of getting the goal. And for them to feel that reward made me really happy.”

Although Waller (two goals) and Passucci (two assists) are the only names on the stat sheet, Pfluger praised her entire team for the win.

“I thought there were some great moments in the game,” Pfluger said. “I thought there were a lot of girls who made great contributions. We walk out of this game thinking, ‘I don’t remember that many mistakes.’ What I’ll remember is great teamwork and kids making up for each other’s errors.”

Before its rematch against the Red Hawks, the College had to get through Kean University in the first round of the tournament.

That hurdle was cleared with ease as the Lions overtook the Cougars with a score of 5-1 on Nov. 2.

Leading the way for the Lions was senior forward/midfielder Leigh Mitchell as she punched in three goals. Two of Mitchell’s goals were assisted by junior forward/midfielder Kathleen Notos, who also recorded a goal.

The Lions’ other goal came off Passuci’s stick, while Waller and fellow freshman Erin Healy each added an assist.

“I feel like we have a lot of balance on the team, and I feel like we have a lot of forwards that can go in and do the job,” Pfluger said.

After receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the NJAC, the Lions will now look ahead to a second-round matchup on Nov. 12 with the winner of the William Smith College-Washington & Jefferson College contest.

Pfluger hopes that the win over Montclair will help her team grow as well as bring a sense of momentum when the NCAA tournament begins.

“We had five freshmen on the field to start the season, so we’ve really come a long way,” Pfluger said. “I think this is a great confidence boost and it’s something to remember, this thrill, because if you feel that, you always want it.”