LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Shippensburg University field hockey team won its second consecutive NCAA Division II National Championship and its third in the last five years on Sunday, posting a 4-1 triumph over No. 1 seed LIU Post in the 2017 title game from Trager Stadium at the University of Louisville.
Shippensburg (17-4) scored three times in the second half, beginning with a penalty stroke converted by freshman Jazmin Petrantonio that made it 2-0 in SU's favor. LIU Post (19-4) reverted to a kicking back with 12:40 remaining, and the Raiders added two more goals down the stretch to clinch the win.
"This is surreal," head coach Tara Zollinger said. "It's amazing and I am so proud of our senior leadership and our young ones that came on. We had a vision and we had a goal and every single day at practice we knew what our vision was. We knew what our goal was and today we got it done and it's an amazing feeling."
SU scored on the first shot of the game just less than 10 minutes into the contest, as senior Madison Scarr laid her stick flat at the edge of the goal to ramp home a long feed by Petrantonio. It was Scarr's seventh goal of the season and Petrantonio's team-leading 12th assist.
"Maddie read the situation beautifully and she has a knack for that," Zollinger said. "She has great hands and she knows what places to be in and when to be in spaces. That was all Maddie, there on the back door, and that gave us huge momentum."
SU dominated possession for the first 35 minutes, taking three penalty corners and tallying five shots while yielding just one shot and no corners to the Pioneers. Redshirt-junior goalkeeper Ally Mooney registered just one official save in the first half for the Raiders but made multiple clearing efforts to slow the Pioneer attack throughout the first half.
Minutes into the second half, Mooney made her presence felt with multiple saves and stops on LIU Post scoring chances after the Pioneers generated their first corner attempt in the 40th minute.
"I just mostly act on instinct," Mooney said. "I think about it tactically as I go out there. I knew with No. 21 (LIU Post's Emily Miller, who scored 39 goals this season) coming into the circle, I knew where she liked to score from, what her tendencies were, so I just tried to shut her down before she got to get to that spot."
Shippensburg extended its lead in the 47th minute of play when it was awarded a penalty stroke on a stick obstruction in the act of shooting from the scoring arc. The play was subjected to a video review but stood as called, and Petrantonio responded by sneaking a shot off the right post and in the goal for her 12th tally of the year.
Having recorded just four shots through the first 57 minutes of play, LIU Post inserted a kicking back in an effort to sustain offensive pressure. Less than a minute after the substitution, senior Brooke Sheibley gained possession, dribbled into the scoring arc, and blasted home a shot to make it 3-0.
Four minutes later, a failed clear ended up onto the stick of sophomore Rosalia Cappadora, who sent a rocket into the cage to make it 4-0. It is the first career goal and points for Cappadora.
LIU Post would add a goal late, but the offensive surge propelled the Raiders to their second straight NCAA Championship. SU yielded just one goal in each of the three NCAA Tournament contests.
"Since our senior class is so big, there's always different opinions and feelings going around the team, but we really have one goal and every game we're always on the same page with the game plan and how we're going to execute it," senior captain Kylie Huffman said. "We really brought that in with the underclassmen to make sure they understand how Ship Hockey operates."
Huffman added: "Especially the coaching staff, it was a complete 180, but it's a good change. They brought new ideas and new trends starting hockey to our world, especially with our scouting report, that was a whole new thing that we saw, and I think that just excelled our hockey even more. So, I'm really happy about where we are right now."
DII NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!pic.twitter.com/ToESkhOUt0— Ship Field Hockey (@SHIPfieldhockey) November 19, 2017
Defensively, the Raiders allowed eight shots or less to all three of their opponents in the NCAA Tournament – a feat it accomplished just six times all year entering the postseason. Mooney finished with 12 saves over the course of the NCAA Playoffs.
"With the new coaching staff we definitely changed up our tactics on the field here and there, but I think we came together as a defensive unit and really supported each other," Mooney said. "We know that if someone's going to step to the ball, someone is going to be coming up and covering your weak side behind you. I know I have complete faith in my defenders to step up and make the tackle before it even has to come out and get to me. I think just having faith in each other and knowing that we work together well is how we got there."
The victory results in Zollinger becoming the first person to win an NCAA Division II National Championship in her first year as a collegiate head coach.
"I have a really great group of athletes that were willing to work incredibly hard," Zollinger said. "Whatever division or whatever level you are playing at, whenever you have people that are willing to work and set their mind on something – it's a coach's dream. I am so excited. It's amazing that our senior leadership was able to get it done two years in a row and make this dream for our university. I am so excited about where we have yet to go, but these women and the legacy they left, it's incredible."
In terms of legacies, Sunday's victory is also a continuation of the #FlyHigh22 tradition that became a fundamental foundation of the field hockey squad as it plays in memory of Amanda Strous.
"Going into this game, this was the last field Amanda (Strous) played on her senior year," Sheibley said. "So, knowing that, I knew that I had to lay it all out, I had to support my teammates, and I knew my teammates were going to support me whenever things weren't going my way."
Passion and hard work have been evident all season long, especially through the determination of junior team member Megan Hart. Diagnosed with leukemia in September, SU has rallied around its teammate and adopted the mantra of #HartStrong during her recovery.
"Meg's our biggest motivator, and when we found out about her diagnosis, we had a team meeting and we talked about what we needed to do to support her," Zollinger said. "Then also we talked about from here on out, every single game is for Meg. We talked about getting a game ball to be able to give her, and we wanted to be able to write every single date of every single win that we have on that ball to be able to give to her. We're so excited. We're going to go see her tomorrow. We're going to take her the trophy. She's been such a motivation for us."
The 2017 national championship marks the final collegiate contest for SU's tremendous senior class: Emily Barnard, Becca Bausinger, Rebecca Bouyea, Morgan Gantz, Kylie Huffman, Catherine Matuszko, Rajchel Moore, Madison Scarr, Sheibley, Mary Spisak, Lauren Zengulis.
In four years, SU has posted a 65-17 record with three NCAA appearances and two national championships.
"The first time I met them on my interview they asked me, 'We want to win a national championship again, are you going to help us get there?' Zollinger said. "When I took over, I said it's going to be really hard, and there are going to be ups and downs. They knew that we needed to make changes but at the same time be able to keep the traditions and keep the culture they worked so hard for three years to create."
"It was a give and take," Zollinger added, "and we had bumps along the way and we had challenges along the way. But in the end we had trust in each other. We knew what our vision was, and we knew what needed to be done to make that vision happen."