Field hockey has arrived at its final stop.
The No. 3 Shippensburg University field hockey team has reached the NCAA Finals and the final step in repeating the team’s championship feat from 2016.
The Raiders now face the No. 1 seed in Division II in Long Island University-Post, a team SU has not seen since its NCAA title win last November. The Pioneers will be looking for some redemption against the Raiders in the NCAA Championship rematch. LIU-Post is also seeking the university’s first-ever field hockey national title.
For SU, this season’s run to the finals will cement first-year head coach Tara Zollinger’s impact with the team and the SU field hockey program. A win on Sunday would be the first national title defense across all sports in school history. But the Raiders know the challenge that lies ahead, and understanding the work and effort put into the season thus far sheds some perspective on how far this team has come.
The road for the Raiders has been a grueling one at times, but the team has been rolling since it clinched a position in the NCAA Tournament. SU’s path so far includes a convincing quarterfinal home win over Stonehill College and Friday’s one-goal NCAA Semifinal victory over perennial rival, East Stroudsburg University.
LUI-Post’s trip to the finals was set up by the team’s regular-season performance, giving the Pioneers a first-round bye and an immediate ticket to the NCAA Semifinals, where they met the No. 5 seed Millersville University. The Pioneers rolled the Marauders, with the team’s top scorer, Emily Miller netting a hat trick in the 3-0 victory for LIU-Post.
History in the national championships has not been kind for LIU-Post though, falling to Shippensburg in both of SU’s national championship runs.
This Shippensburg team is confident and ready rise to the challenge. “They [the players] are the ones who put in the work, they’re the ones that execute on the field and it’s such an amazing experience for me,” Zollinger said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and we still have our vision and we’ve still got to push forward, but it’s exciting.”
There are a few players to look to for big performances on Sunday’s matchup. SU’s field hockey Athlete of the Year Emily Barnard torched Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) this season, scoring 20 goals this season, smashing her previous career high of nine goals. Barnard and senior Brooke Sheibley have built chemistry over the past four years, connecting often throughout the season to score big goals for SU. Sheibley is second on the team with eight assists.
LIU-Post’s offense lives and dies by the team’s two-time NE-10 First Team Athlete, Emily Miller, who has totaled 39 goals and seven assists this season. Slowing down Miller’s offensive prowess will be a major focus for the Raiders, who enter this game putting on a defensive show in the team’s last game, not allowing a single second-half corner against No. 2 East Stroudsburg University on Friday.
The Raiders face just one more obstacle before reaching the NCAA Division II summit, and LIU-Post is prepared to fight tooth and nail to prevent a Shippensburg repeat.
The battle starts Sunday, 11 a.m. at Trager Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. Livestreams are available at ncaa.com.