The Shippensburg University field hockey team brought home its third consecutive NCAA Division II National Championship when it defeated Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) rival East Stroudsburg University 1-0 in overtime on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Duquesne University’s Arthur J. Rooney Field.
The game was extremely close from beginning to end, with neither team being able to generate much, if any, offense. The Raiders came out on top in a grind-it-out game, the teams combining for seven total shots on goal — the lowest total ever in the championship game.
The title game went into overtime for only the sixth time in Division II field hockey history. Less than two minutes into extra time, the Raiders found themselves with a golden opportunity — and sophomore Emily Stauffer jumped on it.
The goal was Stauffer’s 10th of the season, and came on a redirection from a shot by freshman Adrienne McGarrigle. Stauffer — a player who only appeared in two games in her freshman season — came up clutch when the team needed her. Her hard work paid off this season, earning a starting role, and scoring 10 goals with three assists in 23 games.
“It was like slow motion. Adrienne got an amazing shot off with two defenders on her,” Stauffer said. “I was just there with my stick ready to go. Slow motion over the goalie, I watched it go in and then just the emotion after it. I was freaking out.”
“This is a player that never played last year and her goal was to come out and earn a starting job and make a difference,” coach Tara Zollinger said of Stauffer. “We want this to happen — she scored a goal in the National Championship game, which is truly amazing. The whole team did this all year long; this is why we are here. Every single day, every single practice, every single game. We have to believe in ourselves, we have to believe in the magic we can create together. Today our 27 athletes created magic.”
Saturday’s game was close, partially because of the experience that the two teams had playing each other this season. This was the fourth matchup of the season between SU and ESU. The Warriors emerged victorious in both regular season contests before the Raiders beat them in the PSAC tournament, and then in the national tournament to win the championship.
“East Stroudsburg is truly a great competitor. We’re conference rivals, this is the fourth time playing each other and we knew going into it that it was going to be an absolute battle,” Zollinger said. “When we saw that we were going into overtime, we weren’t surprised because the opponent that we faced. We were very confident going into overtime because we’ve had two wins this year in overtime so we knew we did it during the regular season and we could do it again in the postseason.”
The Raiders’ defense on Saturday played a big role in getting the team its third consecutive national championship. Holding East Stroudsburg to only two shots — both of which were on goal — was impressive. It was made possible because of the chemistry and hard work between the goalkeeper — senior Ally Mooney — and the back line of the defense.
“We want to deny the attackers the ball in the circle,” Mooney said. “We step out, we limit our fouls, we do what we need to do to get the ball going forward where we want it.”
Mooney, the team’s lone senior, played a big role for the young Raiders squad. In her final season at Shippensburg, Mooney compiled a 1.20 goals against average to go along with a .790 save percentage and a 19–4 record. However, what she does off the field is arguably the most important aspect of her contribution to the team.
“Mooney went above and beyond to teach them [the underclassmen] first off the field: this is how we act, this [are] our standards. This is what we do and this is what we don’t do,” Zollinger said. “On the field [she] started teaching them, alright here’s our tactics. She instilled the standards and she instilled the belief that she had in them first, so that they could then buy into what we are all about and help us get where we were today.”
The Raiders are a young team that had to fight through an overall lack of experience against some of the other teams in the PSAC.
One of the ways that they overcame these obstacles to win the national championship was through the big effort from sophomore Jazmin Petrantonio. Petrantonio went from more of a playmaker in the assist column to being one of the team’s most dangerous weapons in terms of scoring goals. The sophomore led the team in goals with 28, and set multiple records with her four-goal game in the NCAA semifinals against West Chester University.
The Raiders were unable to take down the rival Golden Rams in two previous games over the season — a 4–2 loss in the regular season and a 3–1 loss in the PSAC championship game. WCU was able to generate a lot of shots in both of those games and was constantly pressuring the SU defense. Coach Tara Zollinger said after the semifinal game that she had implemented a couple different strategies to make sure the same thing did not happen.
“We implemented it yesterday in practice and they went out there and executed it today; so for them to be able to do that is awesome,” Zollinger said. The team had adapted and learned from its previous losses to West Chester and were able to tighten up those areas.
Petrantonio was all over the field in the semifinal and scored an NCAA Division II record-tying four goals. The defense and midfield played so well all afternoon that there were several offensive opportunities for the SU offense. It so happened that Petrantonio was able to weave her way through the entire Golden Rams defense — or capitalize on one of her teammates’ rebounds — on her way to the net.
Her performance in the game was also good enough to give her the record for most career goals in the NCAA playoffs with nine. Petrantonio gave the majority of the credit to her teammates and their ability to set her loose on offense.
“After the first goal, we were all fired up. I can see that feeling in every player I shared the goal with,” Petrantonio said.
That first goal opened the floodgates and the Raiders just continued to pour on pressure until the final whistle.
Petrantonio’s season was one for the record books. She transformed from a balanced role-player in her debut season — scoring 12 goals and assisting 12 in 17 starts in 2016 — to a bona fide powerhouse this season — 28 goals and six assists, starting all 23 games.
“It’s incredible how she can remain calm, rely on her skill, trust her abilities and execute. It’s really one of a kind,” Zollinger said about Petrantonio.
ESU seemed to come into the game with a plan to shut Petrantonio down. The Warriors’ defense was double-teaming Petrantonio for most of the game, but other key players stepped up and had their best performances possible when called upon. The Raiders had to fight through adversity all season long, and that included the national championship game.
“Our athletes face so much adversity,” Zollinger said. “We faced a lot of adversity off the field and that made our group come together even stronger and we learned how to persevere through it because we kept believing and we knew we had this goal in mind and we had to persevere and keep moving forward and keep pushing forward day after day, week after week, game after game and continue to believe in ourselves and believe in what we can accomplish.”
The win for Zollinger was important in many ways. Zollinger — a native of Jeannette, Pennsylvania — was able to taste success once again, but this time in her backyard of Pittsburgh.
“It’s cool being close to home,” she said. “It’s amazing, I never thought that this would happen. It’s pretty special, my first ever field hockey coach was here. It’s really special to be able to win in my hometown.”
As soon as Stauffer’s shot hit the back of the net, the entire squad threw its sticks to the ground and rushed to form a circle around Stauffer in front of the goal. While the team has experienced success the last few seasons, the emotion was still there, especially for newcomers like McGarrigle and Jenna Sluymer.
The Raiders, after ending their 2018 season on the best possible note, will look to enjoy a brief break and soak in their season accomplishments.
They will then head back to the practice field in preparation for next season and the quest for their fourth title in a row.
Sports editor Nate Powles contributed.