Nov. 12, 2009

By Dan Hickling
Special to

EASTON, Mass. – Success quite often begets success, which goes a long way toward explaining how four schools – Bloomsburg, Shippensburg, UMass-Lowell, and host Stonehill – have each found their way back to the NCAA Division-II Field Hockey Championship.

The championship gets under way Friday at Stonehill's W.B. Mason Stadium with a pair of semifinal clashes, three-time defending champions Bloomsburg against Shippensburg (2 p.m.), followed by UMass-Lowell and Stonehill (5 p.m.).

There is not a newcomer in the group and that speaks volumes about the ability of top field hockey programs to keep fighting for – and in Bloomsburg's case, winning – National titles.

“I think the programs recruit themselves,” said Lowell head coach Shannon Hlebichuk whose squad is making its seventh consecutive semifinal appearance, and which won it all in 2005. “We get a lot of top Division-II kids, but also players that are also looking at Division-I. They know that if they choose to go to a UMass-Lowell or a Stonehill, or a Shippensburg, or a Bloomsburg, they have a chance to play in this NCAA championship and win (one). At the end of the day, no one's going to ask you if you are Division-I, II, or III, when you win one.”

Or, if you're Bloomsburg (20-1; No. 1 seed in the South), you win 12, which the Huskies have done under veteran coach Jan Hutchinson.

The next hurdle on the way to a possible No. 13th, to be played, aptly enough, on Friday the 13th, is Shippensburg (20-2; #2 South).

Those two foes have waged some rousing battles over the years, as fellow members of the PSAC, as well as in the NCAA tournament.

Among them was last year's National Semifinal clash, which saw Bloomsburg gut out a 3-2 overtime win on the way to the crown.

That, however, is old news, in the view of Hutchinson, the architect of all of those titles.

“It doesn't matter what happened yesterday, last week, or last year,” said Hutchinson. Every game is different. So it doesn't matter if we lost to them three times or beat them three times. It just matters how they they play the game (Friday).”

And if the Huskies play the way they believe they can, they feel tournament success is bound to follow.

“One good thing about our team,” said senior midfielder Chelsea Due, “is that we have the ability and the heart and the skill. If we play our game, a lot of teams are going to have a hard time with us. If we play our game the way it should be, we shouldn't have to worry about who our opponent is.”

The Huskies have won the last four matchups with Shippensburg (20-2), including twice this season, which accounts for the Raiders' only losses.

Even with its recent futility against Bloomsburg, the “Ship” says its not conceding anything to the Huskies.

“We know what we have to do to be successful,” said Bertie Landes, who has coached the Raiders to four semifinals in the past eight years. “We know we can compete at the level that Bloomsburg has been competing at for eons. We're not intimidated. We're not afraid. We know what we're capable of doing. If we play as a team, we know we can overcome.”

Shippensburg senior forward Jamie Doughty said that the Raiders developed a cohesive bond in the weeks leading up the tournament.

“We trust each other, on and off the field,” said senior forward Jamie Doughty. “Our trust is a big thing. We go to practice hard every day. We've collectively become a unit. Together, our strength is that we are one team.”

Stonehill (17-4, top seed in the North) is returning to the semis for the first time since 2006.

“I think the consistancy of our play is what got us here,” said Shelly Morris, Stonehill's second year coach. “I think we have a good balance at both ends. We have two senior anchors in our defensive end and two major anchors on the offensive end. The combination really helps.”

The Skyhawk attack is led by seniors Claire Hourihan (20 goals) and Jackie Ladino (12 goals), both of whom tasted the NCAA semifinal atmosphere as freshmen.

This time around, both are bent on leaving the school as champions.

“As a freshman,” said Ladino, “you don't really get it. You think, 'well, I have three more years.' But as seniors, you know this is it. Everyone's focused. Everyone's ready.”

The same can be said of Lowell (17-5, #3 North), which lost twice this year to Stonehill, it's cousin in the Northeast-10.
“The past is the past,” said Riverhawks senior defender Laura Sullivan. “It's really hard to play a team three times a year. But it's (all about) what happens tomorrow.”

Lowell boasts plenty of firepower, with junior snipers Sammy Macy (23 goals) and Katie Enaire (22 goals) and senior Jaci Moulton (8 goals) leading the attack.

“What makes us difficult to defend,” said Hlebichuk, “is that you can't just pick one. If you do, the other two are going to step up.”