The 2016 Shippensburg University field hockey team ended its season on Sunday with the highest honor — a national championship. With the win, SU claimed its second championship in three years.
The win however, was the only fitting way for the season to come to a close.
As darkness fell on a warm June night, stunning news rocked the SU field hockey community. A former player, coach, teammate and friend, Amanda Strous, had her life cut too short. On June 19, the SU community learned of her death.
At SU, Strous played field hockey from 2007–2010, totaling 24 goals and 13 assists in 79 career games as a Raider. She was a team captain her senior season, leading her squad to the NCAA Division II National Championship game.
She later returned to SU in the fall of 2012 to pursue a master’s degree. Upon returning she joined the coaching staff, and alongside SU head coach Bertie Landes, the Raiders were able to reach the NCAA Semifinals in 2013.
The community was heartbroken. Family, friends, former teammates and players grieved the loss of their loved one.
“I can still hear her laughter and her voice,” Landes told SU Sports Information. “Her memory will live in our hearts forever. May the lessons she taught us through her passion for life guide us in the days ahead.”
As the season approached, the team honored Strous at its annual alumni game on Aug. 20. Former teammates, friends and coach Landes spoke, recalling the times they had with Strous, in an extremely moving and touching ceremony. The team donned purple T-shirts with Strous’ No. 22 on them, with the saying “Fly High 22.” The team also decided to further honor Strous, by carrying a jersey with her No. 22 on it to each game.
Fly High 22 became a mantra for the 2016 squad. The team adopted one of Strous’ favorite sayings, one they believe she strongly emulated — “live, laugh, love.”
Even though Strous died, she still had a presence with the team. Her jersey made its first appearance on the sideline at Messiah College, where the team gutted out a 1–0 win in overtime.
This was only the beginning of what was going to be a magical season.
As the season neared an end, it began to mirror 2013; the year Strous helped Landes coach the Raiders to a national title.
The first of many shockingly similar results was the 2016 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championship game, where the Raiders battled Millersville University. The Raiders also matched up with Millersville in the 2013 game, dropping both contests.
The 2016 Raiders then went on to battle its kryptonite during the regular season, East Stroudsburg University in the NCAA Quarterfinals. East Stroudsburg had gotten the best of the Raiders, defeating them twice during the regular season, but this time the Raiders would not be denied.
SU’s Cassie Rawa started the scoring in the quarterfinal game, tipping in the ball on the edge of the box to give the Raiders a 1–0 lead. Forward Katelyn Grazan, who led the Raiders offensively all season, added a goal in the second half. The Raiders held off a valiant charge by the Warriors to move on to the NCAA Semifinals in Easton, Massachusetts.
The 2013 team found itself ready for a matchup with Millersville University in the NCAA Semifinals. The 2013 squad used a first half goal by Lauren Taylor, and two-second half goals, one by Ari Saytar and one by Bre White, to knock off the Marauders and advance to the NCAA National Championship to battle LIU Post.
The 2016 team found itself staring at a rematch of the PSAC Championship game, eyeing a difficult opponent in Millersville University.
This time, the Raiders were ready. After a highly contested scoreless affair, a little bit of magic happened. SU’s Brooke Sheibley sent a rocket through the circle in front of the goal, where the ball bounced around until it found Emily Barnard’s stick to give the Raiders the decisive goal. The Raiders won 1–0, and advanced to the national championship game.
The Raiders had the first semifinal game of the day and were awaiting the results of the second game to learn who their opponent would be for the 2016 NCAA Championship.
In 2013, the Raiders faced LIU Post, winning 2–1 in overtime to capture the 2013 championship.
At the press conference after the 2016 NCAA Semifinal game, Landes spoke six powerful words.
“We are a team of destiny,” Landes said.
The team was now just one win away from celebrating its former coach and teammate with a national championship.
Going into the matchup with LIU Post, the Raiders knew it would be a tall order. LIU Post’s Emily Miller had been an offensive force all season, scoring 20 goals on the season prior to the title matchup.
The Raiders, unlike Friday, came out of the gate strong, and SU’s Barnard found the back of the net for an early SU goal. The 2016 team had become so strong at protecting leads, but this one would be a hard one to maintain.
The Raiders found some more offense in the second half, as Grazan scored the most meaningful goal of her career, giving the Raiders a 2–0 lead with eight minutes left in the season.
Those eight minutes would be the longest of the season. With Miller held in check all game, the Raiders started to struggle to contain the sophomore scoring sensation. Miller pushed her way to the net and found space past the outstretched arm of goalie Ally Mooney, bringing LIU Post within a goal, with four minutes left to play.
The Raiders pushed hard, and continued to fight off a furious LIU Post attack that featured a one-player advantage, since LIU Post pulled its goalie.
Miller then rocketed a shot — one that looked destined to tie the game and send it to overtime, but Mooney stood her ground.
Mooney dove to the far side of the cage, knocking down the rocketed shot and pushing it away from the goal. The clock ticked down, and once it hit zero, a celebration unlike any other took place.
The bench rushed the field and players and coaches embraced, soaking in its prestigious accomplishment. The win meant that the Raiders were national champions, with stunning similarity to the 2013 championship that Strous played a vital part in. The win symbolized her part in another Raider championship and cemented her legacy in the impact she made on so many people.
As the Raiders took the trophy, they huddled together with Strous’ jersey stretched over it, holding the trophy up to the sky, chanting her number— 22.
"The road that this team took was very tough," Landes said. "With Strous's death, the only way we could honor her was to live our lives. This senior class, and this team, just wanted to leave a legacy. A life lived every day, with love for each other, caring, concern, and a lot of laughter."
With the win, one could only picture the smile of Strous looking down on the team. The Raiders’ efforts, unwavering and brilliant, made it possible for 22 to fly higher than ever before.