The repeat is complete.
No team in Shippensburg University’s history has successfully defended a national title—until today.
Shippensburg field hockey (17-4) won its third national championship in five years on Sunday, defeating Long Island University-Post (19-4), 4-1 at Trager Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. The game was a rematch of SU’s 2016 title victory, and that winning feeling is something that never gets old.
“This is surreal,” head coach Tara Zollinger said. “We had a vision, we had a goal and every single day at practice, we knew what our goal was, and today we got it done. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The Raiders’ triumph came by committee, with every member of the team doing their part to once again put Shippensburg on top. Kicking off the scoring was senior Madison Scarr, finding some open space by the far post to receive a long feed from Jazmin Petrantonio. Scarr finished her seventh goal of the season to give the Raiders an early lead and a fire that continued to burn throughout the rest of the game.
“Maddie read the situation beautifully, and she has a knack for that,” Zollinger said. “That gave us huge momentum going forward.”
Shippensburg carried that momentum and led 1-0 at halftime, looking poised and confident heading into the second frame.
The second half was more of the same for Shippensburg, with SU flaunting its dominant midfield possession game and a stellar defensive effort to turn away chances LIU-Post was attempting to throw on net, which inspired confidence in the Raiders’ goaltender.
“We came together as a defensive unit and we really supported each other,” goalie Ally Mooney said. “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.”
SU’s Rookie of the Year Petrantonio was the architect behind Shippensburg’s offense, threading passes and picking lanes to send dangerous balls through the Pioneers’ defense.
Petrantonio later converted a penalty stroke drawn by Scarr, rifling a shot off the right post and in. Shippensburg’s 2-0 lead put the team in the driver seat with just more than 20 minutes until the final whistle.
In an attempt to drum up some offense, LIU-Post pulled its goaltender with 12 minutes left in the game, electing to put on another field player to mount its comeback. Shippensburg’s Brooke Sheibley capitalized on the Pioneers’ empty net, giving SU a stranglehold on the game as the clock ticked away.
Sheibley was selected by former Hall of Fame coach, Bertie Landes, to represent No. 22, former player and coach Amanda Strous’ number. Strous’ final game as a Raider was played on Trager Field on the campus of Louisville and was a sentiment that echoed with the team.
“It was kind of emotional finding out that Coach Landes saw those qualities in me,” Sheibley said. “This was the last field Amanda played on her senior year, so knowing that, I knew that I had to lay it all out, support my teammates and I knew my teammates were going to support me.”
The Raiders’ Rosalia Cappadora added a fourth goal to seal the victory for SU, finishing off Shippensburg’s road to the NCAA Championships standing once again at the top of Division II field hockey. LIU-Post added a late goal to break the shutout for Mooney, but one goal is all she would allow on the day.
Shippensburg’s national championship caps off a season of change, adversity and hard work. When first-year head coach Zollinger came to the program, change was bound to happen. After bringing in a new coaching staff and a plethora of new recruits, this team found a way to become the team and family that stands as 2017 National Champions today.
The Raiders used junior Megan Hart’s leukemia diagnosis early in the season as motivation to fight in every game for her, and just as they did early in the season, Shippensburg continued to stay grounded and dedicate every win to the team’s strongest member.
“We talked about what we needed to do to support her and we talked about how here on out, every single game is for Meg,” Zollinger said.
The team is visiting Hart in the hospital on Monday, giving her the chance to raise the trophy and keep the game ball with a special touch added by the players.
“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 it to her,” Zollinger said. “She’s been such a motivation for us.”
To wrap up the accomplishments this team has made can be difficult to put into words, and for Zollinger, the dedication and effort put in this season to get to this point is everything a coach could ever want.
“I have a really great group of athletes who are willing to work incredibly hard every day,” Zollinger said. “Whatever level you’re playing at, when you have that, it’s a coach’s dream.”
For Shippensburg field hockey, the season may be over, but the celebration is just beginning. The team returns home with their heads held high and the NCAA trophy held higher, and looking back to the beginning of the season, it all started with a vision.
“We had bumps and challenges along the way, but together we had trust in each other and we knew what our vision was,” Zollinger said. “We knew what needed to be done to make that vision happen.”
That vision highlights the direction and drive each of these players brought to this team. Zollinger has now picked up where Landes left off, continuing to build on the foundation of the legacy that generations of Shippensburg field hockey players and coaches have left behind.