Lions win third consecutive NJAC title

By George Tatoris

Sports Editor

The field hockey team earned a clean 3-1 win over Rowan University on Wednesday, Nov. 2, sending them to the finals of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Tournament.

Senior midfielder/forward Jaclyn Douglas swiped a rebound into the net for the opening goal. With less than 10 minutes left in the first half, senior defender Lexi Smith received the ball on a corner play and fired a shot past the Profs goalkeeper to make the score 2-0.

Lions celebrate their third consecutive NJAC title (Courtesy of Sports Information Desk)
Lions celebrate their third consecutive NJAC title (Courtesy of Sports Information Desk)

Five minutes into the second period, Rowan midfielder Rachel Galante scored on a penalty stroke, but the Profs had given up too many scoring opportunities to the Lions defense.

In the first half, the Profs had four failed penalty corners. The first corner play gave senior defender Shannon Cowles a defensive save. The last corner, initiated with less than 30 seconds left, was their final effort to get on the board before the period ended, but it too failed.

After the Profs goal, the Lions defense kept them out of the net until the end of the game, halting four more corner plays. Junior goalkeeper Christina Fabiano made four saves throughout the game.

Meanwhile, junior forward Elizabeth Morrison sent a long pass to Douglas, who had a clear shot for her second goal of the night. The Lions won, 3-1, placing them in the NJAC finals.

Across the state, the College’s opponent in the finals had just been decided. Montclair University beat back Kean in a vicious 1-0 victory. The two teams met up on Saturday, Nov. 5, and the Lions put the Red Hawks at the other end of that 1-0 score to take the NJAC title.

As the top two teams in the NJAC — with the Lions in first and Montclair in second — walked onto the field at Lions Stadium, both undefeated in the conference, they approached a pivotal moment in their 2016 journey. Whomever won the NJAC Championship would receive automatic placement in the NCAA Tournament.

Both the Red Hawks and the Lions plodded through mire and muck to get to the finals. Beset by injury and illness in the beginning of the season, the Lions gave up three games to high-class teams throughout the month of September. They turned things around in October, resulting in a now 12-game win streak and a record of 15-3 at the start of the game.

The Red Hawks started 2016 strong with a 5-game win streak, but lost their momentum mid-season with three consecutive losses. Since then, the team rebounded and have since only lost a single match — a 4-0 shutout to the Lions — to make their record 16-4.

The Lions ignored their previous victory when they stepped onto the turf in Lions Stadium on Saturday. This was a new day and a new game.

“That (game) was history. Now we have to prove ourselves again,” head coach Sharon Pfluger said. “That is the mindset.”

In their last matchup, the Lions maintained control of the ball so thoroughly, the Red Hawks only had one chance to score in the entire first half. Things were immediately different this time. While the Lions still maintained control with five penalty corners, the Red Hawks had three penalty corners and two shots.

Neither team managed to score in the first half thanks to strong defenses on both teams. The Lions only managed one shot attempt in the entire period, which happened with less than 10 minutes left. Coach Pfluger expected a close game.

“We never underestimate any of our opponents,” Pfluger said. “So we knew it was going to be tight.”

The Lions returned to the field after halftime with added fire. Two minutes into the half, Douglas bolted downfield with the ball, past her teammates and past Montclair’s defenders, until the only thing standing between her and the back of the net was the Red Hawks goalie, Kaitlin Maguire. Unfortunately for the Lions, Maguire made the save.

Morrison was there to catch the rebound and fired it at the goal, but the shot went wide. In moments, the Lions tripled their shot count. Douglas initiated a corner play soon after, but the game remained scoreless. While both shots missed their mark, they showed the Red Hawks why the Lions held the No. 1 seed in the NJAC Tournament.

In one of the most decisive moves made by Pfluger in the entire game, the Lions substituted freshman defender Cayla Andrews for sophomore midfielder/defender Sidney Padilla with the timer at 49:25.

Not 30 seconds later, Morrison made a short pass to Andrews, who issued a solid tap for the only goal of the entire game. The timer was at 49:52. The score was 1-0, but the Lions couldn’t ease up.

“There was no relaxing because anything can happen,” Pfluger said. “There is still a lot of time left. So we had to get possession of the ball and we still had to play strong defense.”

After the goal, the Lions initiated five corner plays, but the Red Hawks defense held up for the remainder of the period. Unaware that Andrews’s goal would be the only one of the day, a crowd in the stands dressed in Montclair red shouted in fervor as they approached the Lions net with the ball, but the Lions defense kept them out of their circle.

With that, the Lions enter the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Lions will face either the King’s College Monarchs or the Franklin and Marshall College Diplomats on Saturday, Nov. 12, depending on the outcome of their game on Wednesday, Nov. 9. In the meantime, the Lions will practice.

“We could come against teams we played already or we could come against teams that we’ve never seen,” Pfluger said. “So we have to concentrate on ourselves first and get refreshed and be ready for a whole ‘nother segment of the season.”