The Shippensburg University field hockey team has traveled many long roads this season, but none greater than Friday’s trip up Interstate 78.
SU will be starting its NCAA playoff run this weekend against PSAC rival West Chester University at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. It will be the second time SU has traveled to UML to play in the NCAA tournament and its second consecutive year facing WCU.
Coming off of a tough PSAC tournament loss to Millersville University, the Raiders are looking to rebound in the NCAA playoffs. With WCU riding the momentum from winning the PSAC, the Golden Rams look to ride that wave into Massachusetts. SU knows WCU well, and that should make this matchup even better than expected.
SU had a rough game against MU in the PSAC semifinal losing a 1-0 decision. The Raiders normally produce a high-scoring offensive attack, led by leading scorer junior Bre White. White, who was a little banged up last game, needs to provide a spark for the Raiders heading into the NCAAs.
Compared to the preparations against MU, the Raiders need to prepare differently for WCU.
The Raiders know how to spread the wealth, as almost every starter is capable of doing damage at any given moment. White might lead the team with 17 goals, but the entire team is potent enough to create something. In the WCI (WCU?) vs. SU game during the regular season, SU defeated WCU 3-0 where with junior Taylor Bender scored scoring two goals and White chipped chipping in one. SU averages nearly four goals per game (3.95), which is the best in the nation.
SU outshot WCU in that game, 20-9 and managed the game defensively — a sound, double threat. If SU can control possession more than the Golden Rams, the Raiders should not have a problem. WCU knows it is capable of beating the Raiders. In the 2011season, WCU beat SU by the same 3-0 margin in the NCAA playoffs. The No.1-ranked Golden Rams have many weapons of their own to throw at SU.
WCU senior Michele Schrift leads the Golden Rams on offense. Schrift has 23 goals to lead the team and 53 total points this year. Schrift had two shots in the SU game earlier this season, and one of those was on goal. SU will need to watch out for Schrift, who scored one of the Golden Rams’ goals in the NCAA quarterfinal match against IUP. Another girl player to watch out for is junior midfielder Kelsi Lykens. Lykens, who scored two goals in that quarterfinal match, has 15 goals on the season with a robust 90 shots. Sophomore Kelsey Cheek, who has played in all 20 games this year, added two other goals in that IUP game. Cheek, who has only started three games, could get something going for WCU off the bench.
The Golden Rams are a balanced club, posting 39 first half goals to 37 in the second half. They also pose a strong defensive front. WCU, like SU has given up 17 goals all season, which might loom large for the Raiders if not for their three-goal performance against them this season. Senior goalkeeper Kristen Arnold is a force in the net. She has 89 saves on the season for (an) .840 save percentage. She collected seven saves in the SU game earlier this season, also picking up that many in the IUP quarterfinal game. The Golden Rams will be ready to come at SU from both sides, but we know SU head coach Bertie Landes will have her Raiders ready for action.
If healthy, SU should apply its usual approach of aggressiveness, smart passing and pressure. The Raiders have senior goalkeeper Ciarra Delost whose .850 save percentage leads the nation. Delost, along with seniors Kayla Harshman and Jamie Levy, should cut down any WCU attack. A good defense can stop a good offense any day. SU needs to make an early strike and quiet the Golden Rams down and the momentum should swing in the Raiders’ favor. I can see this game being close, especially with the close statistics that these two teams have. SU needs its seniors to step up, and its underclassmen to be ready to run because this will be a tough one until the end. I see SU pulling through 2-1 in a highly physical game Friday at UML.