BLOOMSBURG, Pa. – After the final buzzer sounded on East Stroudsburg’s 6-2 victory against West Chester in the semifinals on Friday, the play-by-play announcer’s worst nightmare was realized.
Warriors vs. Warriors.
The Merrimack Warriors and the East Stroudsburg Warriors will come out and play (or play-ay) for the national championship on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
The trip to the finals is the first for Merrimack, while East Stroudsburg’s lone appearance in the championship game came in 2001 when they finished runner-up to Bentley.
East Stroudsburg coach Sandy Miller said she saw about a half hour of Merrimack’s 1-0 victory against Stonehill on Friday in Bloomsburg.
“They’re very athletic, they go hard to goal, they force quite a bit of corners,” Miller said. “So we’ll have our hands full but we’ll be prepared.”
Merrimack started eight plays from penalty corners in the first half against Stonehill but failed to score on any of them. This inability to capitalize could prove to become increasingly difficult against the ESU defense that averages less than one goal allowed in each contest.
“We definitely like to draw corners, our forwards and high middies, that’s just in their routine,” Merrimack head coach Anne Rounce said. “We need to do a much better job executing corners in the game … but at least we were drawing them and played attack defense. We have room to improve though, for sure.”
ESU has built their reputable defense around a strategy very similar to the “attack defense” mentioned by Merrimack’s Rounce.
ESU leaves only three backs in the defensive zone with the intention having its mids pressure and keep the ball in the offensive zone. This could be difficult against a Merrimack team that forced 12 penalty corners against Stonehill.
Merrimack and East Stroudsburg haven’t faced each other since 2013 and ESU leads the all-time series between them, 5-2. History – and geography – also favors East Stroudsburg in that 20 of the past 23 NCAA DII champions have come from the PSAC.