By George Tatoris
The field hockey team, looking to redeem itself after a disappointing end to an impressive 2015 season, returned with No. 1 rank in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) coaches’ preseason poll, along with a stew of raw and seasoned talent.
After they ended the regular season with a single loss, the Lions trampled through their preseason competition, only to be stopped short of being able to defend their National Championship title by lesser-ranked Middlebury College in the semifinals, losing 4-1.
The Panthers defense kept the Lions at bay while their offense scored four unanswered goals across two halves. The Lions were only able to crack Middlebury’s defense in the final minutes of the game. Sophomore defender Elizabeth Morrison sent the ball into the circle where forward Alicia Wagner sent it into the cage. But the recovery was not enough. Middlebury went on to steal the Championship title away from the Lions in the finals.
The team’s other loss last season, which was to Ursinus College, ended a 27-game winning streak. The College showed mettle throughout the season. They were undefeated at home and against NJAC opponents. They amassed 87 goals throughout the season while opponents only managed to score 14 goals against them.
Some of last season’s victories were personal. Coach Sharon Pfluger, who returned to coach the Lions for her 30th year, reached her 1,000th combined career win last season — a first for a coach of two programs in the entire NCAA. Her overall record is 1,023-135-6. The National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) named Pfluger its 2015 regional coach of the year last season.
On the field, senior midfielder Jaclyn Douglas and senior defender Lexi Smith received national honors by being placed on the 2015 Longstreth/NFHCA Division-III All-American First Team. Both Smith and Douglas, as well as senior goalkeeper Kelly Schlupp, should be returning to the field for another season. Douglas, Smith and Schlupp are veterans and should provide excellent tutelage to incoming freshmen — all three played a part in defeating defending champions Bowdoin College in 2014, which ended in a 2-0 victory for the Lions.
The win was in thanks to a domineering defense outmaneuvering the Panthers’ offense. A stalwart Schlupp made five saves throughout the game while her classmates made for the goal. Douglas scored first while Smith assisted forward Erin Healy in making the Lions’ second goal.
The team’s first game of the 2016 season is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 1, at home at 7:30 p.m. against Stevens Institute of Technology. The Lions will then venture to Radnor, Pa., on Thursday, Sept. 8, where they will take on Cabrini College on their home turf. After, they return home to take on Juniata College on Saturday, Sept. 10.