Field hockey set to defend NCAA title

By Miguel Gonzalez                                                                                                   Staff Writer

The Lions are heading back to Lexington, Va., after defeating Rhodes College and Messiah College at Lions’ Stadium during the weekend of Saturday, Nov. 14. Like the previous year, the Lions were able to advance to the national semifinals with the home crowd cheering them on. But now, the Lions have a national championship to defend.

The team celebrates their regional round win. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)
The team celebrates their regional round win. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

“Being the defending national champion, every other team is out to get you,” junior defender Lexi Smith said. “Every single game is important and nothing can be taken for granted. We just need to worry about living in the moment and enjoying the experience of competing at the highest level. Last season was last season, we cannot coast on being the 2014 national champions. We must make a name for ourselves again.  To do that, we’re determined and ready to give it all we got.”

On Saturday, the Lions shutout the Rhodes College Lynx, 3-0. The Lions never stopped shooting until the last whistle. Within four minutes, freshman forward Taylor Barrett and senior forward Alicia Wagner shot toward Lynx sophomore goalie Laura Eckelkamp.

However, Eckelkamp kicked both shots and recorded two saves. In the 12th minute, Barrett passed from the right side of the circle towards junior midfielder Jaclyn Douglas, who whacked the ball into the net. Five minutes later, freshman forward Elizabeth Morrison scored off a rebound from Lynx goalie Eckelkamp. The Lions continued to pound the Lynx defense with multiple shots and penalty corners.

With a 2-0 lead on the board, the Lions continued their offensive dominance. At the 39th minute, Barrett hit a fastball that bounced off the right post. Douglas followed up with another shot that hit the post.

Morrison adds a goal for the Lions’ shutout over Rhodes College. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)
Morrison adds a goal for the Lions’ shutout over Rhodes College. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

Two minutes later, Morrison received a pass from junior midfielder Danielle Andreula and scored a goal through the legs of Eckelkamp. The Lynx quickly charged through the Lions’ half of the field. Lynx senior midfielder Alex Friedman attempted to dribble and shoot toward the box until junior goalie Kelly Schlupp came in for a save. The Lions ended the second period with a pile of continuous penalty corners while regulating the Lynx to only four shots.

A few hours later after their victory, the Lions witnessed Messiah College’s 3-0 win against SUNY New Paltz. The Lions were prepared to encounter the familiar foe the next day, Sunday, Nov. 15. In contrast to the Saturday, Sept. 19, matchup, the Lions did not need more than 70 minutes to win the match. 

The Lions defeated the Messiah College Falcons, 4-2, after scoring three uninterrupted goals in the second period. As usual, the Lions scored the first goal as they rushed into the box and Andreula poked in the ball.

The Falcons hastily responded when sophomore forward Corissa Gehman scored off a penalty-stroke goal. In the 15th minute, the Falcons scored again when junior forward Moriah Pfautz launched a shot to the left of the box. The Lions began to struggle with possession as many turnovers occurred and the Falcons took advantage by forcing multiple penalty corners.

But, the Lions found their rhythm in the second period. They scored three goals and shutout the Falcons’ offense. In Lions’ Stadium, the team knows that there is no such thing as too many penalty corners, and the Lions recorded 12 that game.

In the 38th minute, junior defender Alex Magnotta sent a pass to the left side where Barrett finished off a wide open goal. The Lions repeatedly forced more penalty corners until Morrison scored from the 10-yard line to give the Lions a 3-2 lead.

Mikayla Cimilluca remains impressive in the playoff tournament. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)
Mikayla Cimilluca remains impressive in the playoff tournament. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

“At first, the team was playing fragmented,” coach Sharon Pfluger said. “Then in the second half, the team started playing more cohesively and cooperatively just like we have done during the season.”

In the 59th minute, Smith received a pass from Barrett’s penalty corner and scored from the top of the circle. With 10 minutes remaining, the Lions hardened their defense while the Falcons attempted to gain possession.

When the final whistle blew, the players raced to the field and embraced each other in jubilation. The Lions won the NCAA regional championship round to advance to the national semifinals.

“(It) feels surreal to be back,” Smith said. “I can’t put it into words. Being back there again, it almost feels like home.”

Now two games away from sealing the national championship again, the Lions are traveling down south to Lexington, Va., to face off against the 18-2 Middlebury College Panthers at Washington and Lee University on Saturday, Nov. 21.