DUDLEY, Mass. — All season long The College of New Jersey meticulously practiced penalty corners. All that effort paid off in the ultimate prize as the Lions scored a pair of goals off penalty corners as they captured the program’s 10th NCAA Division III Championship with a 3-1 win against Middlebury on Sunday.
It was TCNJ’s 11th title overall with the first of those predating the NCAA tournament.
The championship was the first for the Lions since 1999 as they finished the year riding a 14-game win streak and a final mark of 24-2. TCNJ ranks first in all of Division III in competing in 71 national championship games, winning 39 national titles overall.
It was penalty corners which proved to be the difference as the Lions got the game-winning goal when freshman Erin Waller broke a 1-1 tie with 23:55 remaining in the game as she knocked home a feed from junior Camille Passucci from the top of the circle.
TCNJ’s defense then protected that lead as Shannon Syciarz made a tough save on a turn-around shot attempt by Charlotte Gardiner minutes later and then freshman Lauren Pigott broke up a two-on-one for the Panthers.
The combination of Passucci to Waller added an insurance goal with 5:46 left in the game as Waller scored her second of the game off of a penalty corner with Passucci again setting up the score.
“This team has a great feel of what a national championship team is made of and they have played championship smart the whole tournament,” said head coach Sharon Pfluger, who guided the Lions to their eighth 20-win season.
Syciarz was honored as the tournament’s most valuable player as she finished with a .979 save percentage and a 0.25 goals-against-average with three shutouts. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Passucci, Kathleen Notos, and senior Alex Okuniewicz.
In the opening half, the Lions nearly got on the board a shade under 10 minutes in as Notos had a shot clank off the post.
Middlebury countered with three consecutive quality chances with the first coming off of the stick of Lauren Greer. Syciarz stepped out to make a save on a penalty corner and on the second one Syciarz sprawled out to deny Greer from close range.
TCNJ junior Meredith Jeffries came up with a big play on the third Panther chance recording a defensive save on a scoring bid by Clarke.
Notos continued her tremendous tournament as she gave TCNJ the lead with 12:01 remaining in the opening half tipping in a centering pass from Waller. That play originally started with a penalty corner. The goal was Notos’s eighth of the season, with five of them coming in the NCAA tournament.
Syciarz was then tested as she made a highlight-reel save on Greer. Greer came into the circle all alone and Syciarz waited her out forcing her toward the far post. The Panther used her speed to create a shooting lane and fired off a shot, but Syciarz dove and made the save.
The Panthers quickly got the equalizer in the second half as Hannah Clarke directed in a in a shot 2:24 into the period. That goal was the first the Lions allowed in the tournament and the first in more than five games.
Once TCNJ regained the lead back, the team’s defense then protected that lead as Syciarz made a tough save on a turn-around shot attempt by Charlotte Gardiner and then freshman Lauren Pigott broke up a two-on-one for the Panthers.
“You just can’t describe it,” Syciarz said. “It’s just something you have to experience to feel.”
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