The Shippensburg University field hockey team advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals with a 4-1 win over Merrimack College on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Robb Sports Complex.
The Raiders dominated the game from the very beginning by using an aggressive offensive attack combined with excellent defense all along the back end. SU scored three goals in the first half to shut down Merrimack and get a comfortable lead that it would never relinquish.
“It was part of our game plan to come out in a really aggressive press defensively,” SU coach Tara Zollinger said. “We knew that we wanted to get at their backs early on and put them on the hot seat and under a lot of pressure.”
The Raiders grabbed the first goal of the afternoon on a shot by sophomore Jazmin Petrantonio in the 11th minute of the game. The goal was Petrantonio’s 24th of the season and came from a good corner entry pass.
It took only four more minutes for the Raiders to add another goal. This one came from freshman Valen Alonso. She received the ball in the corner of the field and made a couple of good dribble moves to get past Merrimack defenders before tipping the ball past the goalie to score her fourth goal of the season.
SU’s offense came out aggressively and never let up. The Raiders outshot the Warriors 7-0 overall and 3-0 in shots on goal.
The team’s offense was not the only group that had it going on Sunday afternoon. The Raiders defense did a tremendous job throughout the game to shut down a Merrimack team that was averaging more than three goals per game heading into the contest. What made it even more impressive was that they were playing with a limited effort from banged-up junior defenseman Mikayla Cheyney.
“The person that came on the field for her, Caitlyn Wink, she started and played in the national championship game last year, so she came in and was able to fill that role very quickly,” Zollinger said.
“We have been working through a couple injuries with our backline, and the good thing is we got a solid backline squad. We know that if someone gets injured, someone can step in and they can get back to work right where they left off.”
Cheyney played only 35 minutes in Sunday’s win over Merrimack. However, as Zollinger mentioned, Wink was able to come and step right in to fill the void. The defense never missed a beat, as Merrimack was held to only three shots (two shots on goal).
The Raiders did a good job of coming out of halftime and not taking their foot off the pedal. Right when a desperate Merrimack team was trying to get back in the game, the Raiders put their foot down and kept a comeback from ever coming close to happening.
SU outshot Merrimack 18-3 and 10-2 in shots on goal in the second half. Freshman forward Jenna Sluymer had a good game and scored the team’s fourth goal of the day in the 47th minute. Sluymer led the way in terms of the offense’s aggressiveness, totaling seven shots and two shots on goal.
The next matchup for the Raiders will be a difficult one. They take on Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) rival West Chester University in the semifinals of the NCAA DII tournament on Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Pittsburgh.
The Raiders have not been able to beat West Chester this season, falling 4-2 on Oct. 9, and most recently, 3-1 in the PSAC tournament final.
“We will make some tactical adjustments, because what we did last time didn’t work,” Zollinger said when asked about what the team can do to get over their struggles against West Chester. “We will make those adjustments and I think that the team will respond really well to that, because it is change and they really embrace change and see it as an opportunity to grow.”