By George Tatoris
The Lions field hockey team was in a tough spot on Tuesday, Sep. 27. The Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham Devils had mustered three goals in the second half, eliminating the Lions lead and tying the game at 3 with less than 10 minutes left in the game. As the Lions set themselves up for a penalty corner two minutes later, they were well aware that this might be their last chance to score.
Sophomore forward Taylor Barrett was positioned next to the Devils goal, facing her teammates poised at the top of the box. Meanwhile, the Devils defense girded themselves inside their own goal.
As the Devils and Lions rushed at each other, Barrett transferred the ball to senior defender Lexi Smith, who danced around the Devils defense and launched the ball into the net with less than six minutes left in the contest. The goal completed Smith’s hat trick and won the Lions the game, 4-3.
Although the Lions came out on top, head coach Sharon Pfluger acknowledged the Devils second-half comeback highlighted some of the Lions’ shortcomings.
“We played well but we needed to hold that lead better than we did,” Pfluger said.
The Lions started out strong as Smith singlehandedly gave the team a two-point lead in the opening half. She ended a 20-yard drive with the Lions breakthrough goal and soon after scored on a corner play initiated by sophomore forward/midfielder Caroline Quinn.
Fairleigh Dickinson answered in the second half with a swift assault on the Lions goal, taking advantage of a penalty corner and a penalty kick to tie up the game in less than 10 minutes.
Senior midfielder/defender Jaclyn Douglas rocketed the ball past the Devils goalie off a pass from junior forward Elizabeth Morrison, giving the Lions a slim lead over their opponent.
The Lions offense kept control of the ball best they could, but Devils senior Kim Davis whipped the ball into the net to tie up the game again.
The slim margin of the Lions victory led them to train harder for their first New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) rival the William Paterson Pioneers, whom they faced on Saturday, Oct. 1. The training did the trick — the Lions shutout their first NJAC opponent, 7-0.
“I think we learned a lot in the last few days and we came on strong (Saturday),” Pfluger said.
October greeted the teams with gray skies and cool temperatures, but the Lions offense warmed up quickly. Just two minutes in, Smith circled around the defense on a corner play and tore the ball into the net for the Lions opening goal.
As the Lions swarmed the goal, amassing five shots and a penalty corner over ten grueling minutes, Douglas found the ball after a shot from Smith was saved by the Pioneers goalkeeper, and tapped it in neatly to widen the gap.
One minute later, there was a thunderclap as Smith rocketed the ball into the net on a penalty kick.
To close the half senior forward/midfielder Danielle Andreula redirected a pass from Douglas into the goal for the Lions fourth goal of the game.
The Lions continued their assault after the halftime, accruing three penalty corners in the first two minutes. On the fourth corner play, Douglas made her second goal off an assist from Smith. Freshman defender Cayla Andrews lobbed the ball over the goalie’s head to bring the score to 6-0.
The Pioneers had their first chance to score soon after as they set up for a corner play, but the effort only resulted in junior goalkeeper Christina Fabiano’s first save of the game. She had waited 45 minutes to make the save.
Douglas closed the scoring by completing a hat trick, sweeping in the ball for the seventh goal of the game. The Pioneers goalie dove to stop the ball, but it was to no avail. Pfluger was happy with the victory.
“I saw a lot of nice things happening out there and I thought we played very disciplined so I feel good about it,” Pfluger said.
After splitting the last three weeks, the Lions slipped in the NCAA coaches poll, hitting their lowest point this week at No. 11, but Pfluger said the defeats are more of a learning experience.
“It’s been a real growing season for us,” Pfluger said. “A real adjusting season”
Although the Lions had dominant performances against several opponents, they haven’t been able to keep their momentum. Pfluger attributed the team’s “disjointed” season to injury and illness.
“Through that time we were kind of rolling up and down,” Pfluger said.
Despite the hardships, Pfluger views the shutout against the Pioneers as a return to form.
“(This season) has been a journey for us and a journey we’re learning from,” Pfluger said. “And I really think we’re starting to look like ourselves now”