Shippensburg Gunning for First Title
The Shippensburg University field hockey team is the most successful squad in school history, but the Lady Raiders still have one accomplishment left on their list of goals.
The top-ranked Lady Raiders posted a school-record for victories with their 20-2 mark this season, and captured their first-ever Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championship with a 5-4 win over No. 2 Bloomsburg, the three-time defending NCAA champions. Head coach Bertie Landes credits the teams incredible attitude for their success.
We were down 3-0 at halftime in our conference final and they were so positive, said head coach Bertie Landes. They were saying ˜were passing great and doing the things we have to do --- just keep on doing it and the ball is going to go in.
The Lady Raiders had advanced to the PSAC Tournament 14 previous times before winning the coveted title with losses in five trips to the conference final, most recently falling to Bloomsburg, 2-0, in 2003.
It was an incredible feeling of pride for these kids that have worked so hard get to see the results of it, said Landes.
One reason for the teams breakthrough is Shippensburg has fielded the best scoring offense in the nation with an average of 4.91 goals per game, and a school and PSAC-record 108 goals this season. The Lady Raiders boast four of the top 10 scorers in Division II, including junior Ashley Watt, who leads the nation with a school-record 30 goals.
(The offensive firepower is due to) speed and the ability to work hard and play together, said Landes. With this group, it doesnt matter that she (Watt) is the top scorer. Shes just as happy pass the ball off. We do not have a star system here. We dont want stars. We want people that want to play together as a team.
In addition to the teams scoring prowess, Landes knew this group would be different before the season started.
My five seniors have just dedicated themselves since their spring season, said Landes. They got together and have been so committed to the team and making everybody feel a part of the team. I just sensed in the spring this team was going to be special.
Shippensburg is trying to add to the solid foundation it has built over the last few years to become one of the nations top teams. The Lady Raiders earned a trip to their first NCAA Tournament in 2003, and repeated the accomplishment in 2004.
This year, the Lady Raiders earned a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament, automatically advancing to the national semifinals. Shippensburg will face the winner of Bloomsburg and Indiana University (Pa.), both PSAC foes and the teams that handed the Lady Raiders their only two losses of the season.
Theyre so competitive, said Landes. The top three teams in the PSAC are so competitive " each of us has speed, offense, great coaching. It will be a challenge no matter who we face.
Shippensburg, however, will have one advantage in the championship, serving as the host of the tournament for the first time in school history. The national semifinals will be played on Nov. 11 with the national championship game on Nov. 13 on the campus Robb Sports Complex.
With all of their successes this season, the Lady Raiders were also able to something that doesnt show up in the record books.
The major goal that we had was they wanted to stay together as a group, said Landes. They wanted to stay unified and not let any of the little stuff that happens sometimes to distract them from their ultimate goal of playing well.
Now, with its history-making season almost complete, Shippensburg has just one goal left to cross off the list.