Legacies are best left told not by those who achieved, but by those who witness something special unfold.
Shippensburg University's field hockey team cemented that legacy Sunday, defeating Long Island University Post, 2–1, to become NCAA Division II National Champions once again.
The top-seeded Raiders faced off against a familiar national championship opponent, following in the footsteps of the 2013 championship squad that defeated LIU 2–1.
The parallels to Shippensburg’s last national title were shocking. The paths to the trophy may have been the same, but this time around felt much, much different.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” SU senior Taylor Fisher said.
“I think we needed that game to prove to ourselves as a team that we could do it,” Fisher said in reference to beating East Stroudsburg in the quarterfinals. “We stepped up to the plate; we did what we needed to do; we won the game and everything else was kind of a parallel.”
Boston Bruins’ long-time anthem singer and New England star, Rene Rancourt, took the field, displaying his iconic vibrato and trademark ‘triple fist pump’ to get the crowd going. As the nearly 40-yard-long flag retreated, the players took the field ready for an all-out war.
The Raiders were electric to start the game, dominating the middle third of the field and throwing chance after chance at the net. The shots came early and often, with SU amassing a 6–1 advantage in penalty corners in the first half.
Seven minutes into the game, Brooke Sheibley connected with Emily Barnard again, completing a nearly 30-yard stretch pass. Barnard slipped behind the LIU defense to bang home her ninth of the season and second of the weekend.
Barnard led the offense throughout the first half, crashing the net over and over and creating nightmares for the Pioneers’ defense. SU’s midfield and outside defenders were successful all game, preventing LIU from advancing the ball — something head coach Bertie Landes has been preparing for all weekend.
“We were very committed and focused on just using each other and everyone doing a good job,” Landes said. A strong team bond has led the Raiders to the top of the NCAA mountain. “Our chemistry off the field plays so much into what we bring on the field,” midfielder Mary Spisak said.
The Raiders’ chemistry and drive was apparent, as the team outworked an LIU Post squad that had won eight games in a row coming into Sunday’s matchup. SU’s push for glory continued into the second half, where Spisak and Barnard continued to drive outside and inside, forcing Post’s goaltender to turn away a number of shots.
One thing the Raiders were intent on doing was keeping pressure up while playing with the lead; so SU continued to push numbers forward to make life easy on goaltender Ally Mooney.
Spisak sent a thru ball up the pitch to a streaking Barnard, who beat a defender to get in alone on goal. Post’s goaltender slid out to negate the rush, flipping Barnard over her pads for the third time in the game.
Barnard’s collision with the goaltender sent a ball skittering out to the top of the circle, where senior Katelyn Grazan sent a laser through scrambling defenders into the net. This gave SU an important insurance marker with just more than eight minutes remaining.
As expected, LIU sent everything it had toward the Shippensburg defense. The Pioneers took a timeout to regroup and pulled the goaltender with eight minutes left to ignite the team for a final push.
With just more than four minutes left to play, Emily Miller found a pocket of free space to whack home her nation-leading 21st goal of the season. Miller’s goal put the Raiders on edge for a final gut-wrenching four minutes. But the seniors have been in this situation before, and the leaders of the team rallied to ensure the 2016 team’s legacy was set in stone.
“We’re still one up, and I have a lot of confidence in this team,” Landes said. Landes’ confidence in the team was tested late. With just 40 seconds left in the game, the ball rolled out to the right side of the goal to Miller’s stick, where she found herself in alone on goal, with just Mooney to beat. With the game on her stick, Miller ripped a shot short side, but Mooney put herself in perfect position to send Miller’s sure goal flying past the net. “That’s our Mooney,” Landes said laughing with the players. “That’s what she does.”
Mooney’s game-breaking save ended LIU Post’s hopes of reaching its first national title. Sticks went soaring, streamers went flying, and the Shippensburg bench cleared as the team swarmed Mooney in celebration.
SU’s victory is its second field hockey national championship in school history, and this time around, it felt like this team was destined for glory.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Landes said. “I think winning your last game is the ultimate feeling. As a player and as a coach, it’s very satisfying.”