As the Lady Eagles of Lock Haven University have soared to the top of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and a privileged place in the IWLCA Division II Rankings, they’ve taken the “Lock” part of their school’s name to heart, as in locking down opponents on defense.

It’s possible that no player in a Lock Haven uniform embraces that philosophy more than Katie Zichelli.

The Lady Eagles’ have no problem putting the ball in the net – their 17.08 goals per game are fourth in Division II – but Lock Haven truly shines on defense, giving up just 5.42 goals per game to lead the nation in that category. And in the middle of it all, you’ll find Zichelli, last season’s national Defensive Player of the Year.

“Katie’s a very hungry player,” said Lock Haven head coach Kristen Selvage. “That’s one thing that her teammates know about her, and they admire that about her, so they always have her back. They see that look in her eyes, and she’s going after the ball and she’s hungry. That’s when they latch down and know that they have to have her back if anything goes awry. Usually, it doesn’t. Usually, she comes up with the ball, but they know that she’s that player and some of them are the more passive players who wait to slide and help if need be. They buy in to the whole philosophy of all doing it together: all shifting together, all playing together, and as a unit, they’re becoming much more efficient in everything.”

In the Lady Eagles’ wins over PSAC rivals Gannon and Mercyhurst, the native of South Orange, N.J., feasted on opposing offenses, leading Lock Haven with 11 ground balls and four caused turnovers en route to a 12-8 win over Gannon and a 17-1 victory over the Lakers. True to form, however, Zichelli credits her teammates on the Lady Eagles’ defensive unit for allowing her to be so effective and so honored.

“Defense has to work as one unit,” Zichelli said of the Lady Eagles’ defensive success. “It doesn’t just take one person to stop a whole attack. You really need to be able to trust your teammates and really take chances on defense, and know that your teammates are right behind you helping.”

An average of two caused turnovers per game is actually an off week for Zichelli, who leads Division II in the category with 3.42 per game in addition to her D-II-best 5.17 ground balls per contest. Of course, when the offense has the ball long enough to score 17 goals, as Lock Haven’s did in the win over Mercyhurst, it’s going to limit the work that the defense has to do. That’s another place where Zichelli credits the team’s unity as a catalyst for success at both ends of the field.

“Some of the keys to the season have been staying focused, taking it one game at a time, and really working well together,” Zichelli said. “We seem to connect, all the way from defense to attack, really well.”

The Lady Eagles are closing out the regular season with a demanding stretch of games, going from Mercyhurst and Gannon to another ranked foe in No. 7 West Chester, and No. 4 Limestone awaiting after the PSAC regular-season schedule concludes against and Kutztown and IUP. However, the Lady Eagles haven’t especially concerned themselves with what kind of challenges they face, choosing to stop their opponents before they can truly get started.

“Whatever particular offense they want to run, we just don’t let them get into their groove,” Selvage said. “We’re just going out and giving our all right away. That’s what we’ve told them in the locker room: Play your game. Set the pace. Take advantage of the fact that you have been doing this well. ”

Not focusing too much on individual opponents also means not focusing on rankings and honors, so while the games toward the end of the season may seem bigger from the outside, inside the Lady Eagles’ locker room, they’re all the same.

“We’ve focused our entire season on not over-stimulating ourselves from one game to another,” Selvage said. “We want to play consistently. When you start to get too amped up for an opponent that you think is bigger and better than the last one, that’s where nerves come into play. As a team, we’ve focused on not being over-stimulated for the wrong games.”

It’s a sound strategy: one thing the opposition can never control is how hard you work, and that’s been a key for Lock Haven all season long.

“I don’t believe that we’ve ever had a defensive unit play as hard and as consistent as this team has so far this season,” Selvage said.

If Selvage, Zichelli and the rest of the Lady Eagles have their say about it, that hard work and consistent effort will take Lock Haven all the way to a championship or two.