This group of seniors, comprised of 11 national champions, multiple All Americans and a whole lot of confidence, has taken the changes this season in stride and never looked back.
Shippensburg University’s field hockey team has laid the foundation for success once again, taking gold in the NCAA Finals for the second-straight season. But the team’s success would not have been possible if not for the core of the team, the seniors most responsible for SU’s 2016 championship run and their seamless transition into the team currently standing atop of the NCAA, achieving the university’s first national title defense.
After defeating Long Island University-Post in the NCAA Finals last November, the team went through a series of changes in the offseason that would shake a lesser team’s confidence. SU’s former legendary coach, Bertie Landes, who represented Shippensburg field hockey for 18 years, passed the torch to first-year head coach Tara Zollinger.
Zollinger brought two assistant coaches and nine freshmen in, and the senior group was faced with the task of adjusting to a new system and new faces. So far, the adjustment has meshed to perfection, sealing the Raiders’ senior class as back-to-back national champions.
Before the season began, the team took a trip to Bermuda to grow as a unit and build a team-first mentality. The seniors split up, pairing off with the younger members of the team to get each other acclimated with Shippensburg field hockey.
“This senior class has been phenomenal since the day I stepped on campus,” Zollinger said. “They split themselves up and made sure they always had a freshman with them and then a sophomore or junior with them so that they were spreading throughout the team and building relationships with people they only knew for a few days.”
Those bonds and relationships began the foundation for the new era of Shippensburg field hockey, started by the leadership of the group of seniors.
“They realize we need everybody on this roster to be successful,” Zollinger said.
This graduating class has been nothing but successful in the group’s four years at SU. This core of players has contributed to a 65-17 record with two national championship appearances and two NCAA titles.
But time flies when you are having fun, and for the seniors, this four-year run has come and gone right before their eyes.
“Thinking back to my freshman year, it flew by in an instant,” senior Kylie Huffman said. “I could not have gotten through anything without my senior class, and that includes Mooney.”
That comradery and togetherness has put SU in the position it is in today, which is no small feat in the always dangerous Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).
“To win back to back is such a hard thing to do but our class and our entire team has done that,” Huffman said.
This season has been full of team success for the Raiders, but team success and individual success often go hand-in-hand.
Senior Emily Barnard became just the fourth Raider to win the PSAC field hockey Athlete of the Year, posting 20 goals and four assists in 21 games this season.
Along with Barnard’s PSAC Athlete of the Year and All-PSAC First Team selection, seniors Mary Spisak and Brooke Sheibley earned All-PSAC Second Team honors, playing integral roles on both sides of the ball for SU this season.
Perhaps the most important thing for this group going forward is that the Shippensburg field hockey program has never been in a better place than it is right now, winning national titles in three of the past five years, and bringing in a new system that has clicked with the team in a big way.
The Raiders will graduate Emily Barnard, Becca Bausinger, Rebecca Bouyea, Morgan Gantz, Kylie Huffman, Catherine Matuszko, Rajchel Moore, Madison Scarr, Brooke Sheibley, Mary Spisak and Lauren Zengulis.
Through all the challenges, adversity and troubles that come throughout the duration of four seasons, these 11 seniors have come out on top and left their mark on their teammates, coaches and Shippensburg field hockey for years to come.