The past weekend was action packed as women’s soccer and field hockey saw the first rounds of their national championship tournaments get underway.
SOCCER — EDINBORO FIGHTS ON TO FIRST SWEET 16
The DII Women’s National Championship saw its field cut from 48 of the nation’s best teams to 16 this past weekend. It may have seemed like there weren’t too many surprises as six of the eight No. 2 seeds advanced and will join six No. 1 seeds in the Regional finals this coming weekend.
The Atlantic Region however, was upended. Both Gannon — the No. 1 seed — and West Virginia Wesleyan — the No. 2 seed — were upset in the second round. It has set up an exciting bout this Friday in the Sweet 16 between two foes that know each other quite well.
“I’m looking forward to the third go-around against East Stroudsburg,” Edinboro coach Gary Kagiavas said. “They are a quality program. They are very well coached, they have a quality coaching staff.”
Friday’s Atlantic Region Sweet 16 match pits No. 4 Edinboro against No. 6 East Stroudsburg. The two are not only divisional rivals, but faced off just two weeks ago in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament finals, with ESU rising the victors.
Related: Women's soccer tournament bracket
“After we played East Stroudsburg the first time at home and beat them,” Kagiavas said, “we all thought that East Stroudsburg was the best team we had played all year long. Even though we had lost 4-0 to Gannon [who was No. 1 in the nation at the time], we thought East Stroudsburg was a very complete team, a very strong offensive team and very organized defensively.”
Kagiavas is the only coach the Edinboro Scots women’s soccer program has ever known. He was a standout player in the PSAC back in his day for now rival Gannon — a player who went to three Final Fours. Now, in his 20th season as head coach, he is finally taking the women’s team to unchartered territory: its first Sweet 16 in program history.
“It’s surreal to be honest,” Kagiavas said. “Being a coach, it feels so much more rewarding. All of these kids have been working all year 'round and finally get to a point that our program has never been to — it’s just unbelievable.”
It’s been no easy road for the Scots, as they have had to face top PSAC teams the whole way, PSAC rivalries that Coach Kagiavas refer to as “pretty awesome” and “brutal” at the same time. They made their first PSAC tournament final in the program’s 20-year history after beating the then No. 5 ranked team in the nation, only to lose to East Stroudsburg — the defending 2014 PSAC tournament champions — in the finals. They then had to beat Gannon once again this past weekend for a little rematch.
“Our defense has really stepped up the past couple of games,” Kagiavas said, “In the beginning of the year we had an injury, we were trying to put together some things until she came back. The kids over the year were able to get better at the transition and were able to adapt a lot more quickly to different teams.”
The Scots have a relatively young team, but Kagiavas points to his small group of seniors as the key that makes their engine go.
“I think we have great leadership,” Kagiavas said. “We only have two seniors start. Their leadership is key.
“We had great team last year, we had six seniors starting, but we just didn’t have the same kind of leadership. These kids have led by example, because we have a relatively young group, and they’ve taken the others with them.”
How far the leadership can take them will be determined this weekend.
Elsewhere, the South Central Region will see the other big underdog story of the Sweet 16. Neither the regular season nor tournament champion of the Lone Star Conference made it through their first game. No. 3 Texas A & M - Commerce was upset by No. 6 Colorado Mines, while the St. Edwards Hilltoppers defeated Angelo State — the No. 1 seed in the Region and No. 10 in the nation.
The No. 5 seed Hilltoppers now take on the No. 2 seed Dallas Baptist Patriots Friday. St. Edwards finished second during the regular season to Dallas Baptist and now both teams are excited to represent the Heartland Conference in the Sweet 16.
"I think our team has deserved a spot in the Sweet 16.” Hilltoppers head coach Nick Cowell told St. Edwards Athletics. “They've had a long season that has been up and down, but we've really grown together as the season has gone on. I feel like we are peaking at the right time and I know DBU is a great team and we have a lot of respect for them. We know it'll be a great game so we'll hope to do the Heartland Conference proud. Having two top teams from our conference make it out of the region says a lot.”
FIELD HOCKEY — THE FINAL FOUR IS SET
The defending champions are out as three of the four teams that remain look to make history for their programs.
This Friday’s first final four match will see NE-10 tournament champion Stonehill square off against Merrimack. Merrimack defeated Adelphi 2-1 in the first round this past weekend. One team is guaranteed to make school history as neither program has ever appeared in a National Championship final.
Related: Field hockey tournament bracket
The Atlantic Region will see West Chester face off against East Stroudsburg in the second game this Friday. West Chester — who won back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012 — ousted the reigning national champion Millersville this past weekend by a score of 2-1.
East Stroudsburg — fresh off the heels of their first ever PSAC regular season and tournament championship — will be looking to return to the national championship finals for the first time since 2001. ESU — the No. 1 team in the NFHCA poll — is looking for their first title.