The battle of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Association (PSAC) titans is finally here.
The No. 3 Shippensburg University field hockey team faces off against the No. 2 East Stroudsburg University on Friday in Louisville, Kentucky, in an NCAA Semifinal matchup, and this time, it will be for all the marbles.
The top two teams to come out of the PSAC matchup for the third time this season, splitting the season series 1-1, with each team’s victory coming on its home field.
The Raiders have some momentum heading into Friday’s matchup after the team’s dominant 6-1 home win over Stonehill College. East Stroudsburg will be looking for redemption, though, after SU knocked out the Warriors in last year’s quarterfinal play-in which sent the Raiders to the national tournament.
Both teams led the PSAC this season, with the Warriors (17-4, 8-2 PSAC) edging out the Raiders (15-4, 9-1 PSAC) for the second seed, grabbing a bye in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Shippensburg sports the PSAC Field Hockey Athlete of the Year in Emily Barnard and the PSAC Rookie of the Year in Jazmin Petrantonio. Both have played integral roles in burying goals for the Raiders this season, with Barnard cashing in for 20 goals and Petrantonio scoring 10 goals and 11 assists.
East Stroudsburg brings a strong cast of characters into the game too, most notably is the team’s defensive leader, Sydney McCarthy. McCarthy was named the Elite 90 award winner at the Final Four banquet for the second time in her career, while also winning the PSAC Defensive Athlete of the Year. McCarthy heads into Friday’s match with 10 goals and 11 assists.
While scoring is always crucial, for SU, getting on the scoreboard at least once in the game has made all the difference for the team this season. When scoring one or more goals, the team is 15-0 this season, with all of its losses ending in shutouts.
It has become a heated rivalry between these teams over the past two years, as both squads have put forth championship runs since 2015, fighting each other in pursuit of the title. The Warriors took home the national title in 2015, and the Raiders are the reigning champs looking to defend their NCAA Championship for the first time since West Chester did so in 2011 and 2012.
The winner of Friday’s match will move on to the NCAA Finals to face the winner of the 1 p.m. game between LIU-Post and Millersville University. Being a perennial top team in the PSAC, Shippensburg has gathered plenty of experience competing against both squads, besting LIU-Post in the national title game twice and booting Millersville out of the semifinal game last season.
For the Raiders, the focus is not on the past or the future. The focus lies on the opponent standing in the way of reaching the team’s second consecutive title appearance.
“The athletes have been working incredibly hard both on and off the field, in the video room, making sure that we understand our opponents, understand our strengths and weaknesses, and we made the adjustments in the back half of our season to be able to get us to the point where we are today,” head coach Tara Zollinger said. “I’m really excited to head to Louisville and put all of our hard work to the test.”
With SU’s season on the line, the Raiders will look to bring the fire and energy they had all season long that propelled them to this opportunity.
“Getting on the field on Friday is going to be a great feeling going against a competitor that we know pretty well in ESU,” goalie Ally Mooney said. “I think we’re all just really excited and can’t wait to show what we’ve got.”
Shippensburg plays for a bid to the finals on Friday at 10 a.m. at Bellarmine University’s Owsley B. Frazier Stadium.
A livestream to the game will be available at NCAA.com and the link will appear on Twitter @ShipUSlate and The Slate-SU Newspaper’s Facebook page prior to game start.