Assoc. Sports Editor
Best regular season record ever—check. Playoff berth and first-round bye—check. PSAC Championship—check.
After an overtime win over West Chester (14-5) in the PSAC Semifinals, 1-0, and then another 1-0 win over undefeated, No. 1-ranked Shippensburg (18-1), the Millersville field hockey team can now call them PSAC Champions, thanks-in-part to 142.3 more crucial minutes by the tournament MVP, Marauder goalie Lauren Sotzin, and “sharp-tongued” coaching by Shelly Behrens.
“It has been a little overwhelming but in one of the best ways,” said Behrens, who helped galvanize the team to a record-breaking year in 2012, was named Womensfieldhockey.com’s National Field Hockey Coach of the Year and has one-upped last year with 2013’s conference Championship. She noted that “being able to celebrate the moment with our Vice President, Dr. Breaux, and our athletic administrators, as well as our families, fans and alums who were there to support us” was just one perk of the historic victory.
“To me, this moment was just as much theirs. They have been with us through thick and thin,” she said. Referring to her players, she added, “I told the team to enjoy the moment; they earned it.”
It was the Marauders’ first PSAC Championship in 27 years, and it was no easy task.
In Shippensburg, Pa., the Semifinals begun with a rematch of 2012’s PSAC Championship game, where West Chester stole the trophy from Millersville. The Marauders, though, have trumped the Golden Rams twice during this past regular season, and were looking to exact revenge in this year’s PSACs. The Rams, on the other hand, were trying to avoid déjà vu for the second time in 2013, and came out guns a-blazing.
West Chester’s belligerent berating of Sotzin lasted the entire first 35 minutes. They were awarded 13 penalty corners, let loose 10 shots and forced Sotzin to be at her very best, staying poise and accumulating 6 saves in the half.
Millersville’s offensive effort, however, yielded abysmal numbers: zero penalty corners and a mere one shot.
Starting the second half, it was more of the same; for nearly the first 20 minutes of the latter period, WCU continued to dominate. Millersville only tallied one more shot, as the Golden Rams wave of pressure continued with three shots and two penalty corners.
It’s safe to say that it was an opportune time for Behrens to call a time out, and it’s also safe to say that Behrens was quite livid.
“I was sharp-tongued with them,” she said. “[I] really tried to snap them back to our game plan … playing principles and habits.”
The game plan? Well it surely wasn’t to constantly be on the defensive.
“The players wanted to do so well that we ended up being more reactive,” Behrens said, describing their perfunctory output to be “too soft for my liking.”
“I think we were just trying to not mess up as opposed to just doing what we do execution-wise,” she added. Nevertheless, “I kept it pretty curt and to the point, and reminded them of some things that were needed.”
And, boy, did they respond.
More balanced field hockey was played, following Behrens’ rant, as Millersville started to find their groove; they outshot the Rams, three to two, and won the battle in penalty corners, three to one. Their final corner came at a clutch time: 69:20 into the period with less than a minute to go in regulation. The Marauders, though, came up short in their attempt to avoid any extra time.
Sotzin tacked three more saves to her total, and carried her team’s momentum into overtime.
Two minutes into the extra period, after Sotzin denied an opportunity from West Chester off of a penalty corner, Millersville had a chance of its own. As senior Samantha Ruane sped past the Golden Rams defense off Sotzin’s rebound, she earned a penalty corner 75 yards from the goal.
Junior Sarah Bomberger flicked in the ball towards the team’s assists co-leader, Rachel Dickinson, who tapped it back to Bomberger. The defensive woman flung the ball towards the goal from the left side, and it deflected off of a Ram, Kelsi Lykens. In an unfortunate couple seconds for Lykens, the ball trickled into the net, bidding arrivederci to her and her team’s dreams of returning to a PSAC Championship.
Rather, it was Millersville who came away with the 50/50 chance of winning a PSAC title. But it couldn’t be done without their goalkeeper, in Behrens’ eyes.
“Lauren was just clutch in the net,” she said. “WCU was creating some great chances, and she and our defense unit … were spot on.”
Behrens, though, acknowledges that it takes a team effort to earn a victory such as this.
Behrens described that, without Sotzin’s shot-block, Samantha Ruane meandering by West Chester’s defenders and Bomberger’s heads-up play, this win never could have happened.
“[It] was a great job by all—total team effort,” Behrens said … “Not maybe our best field hockey at times, but we battled back through it and found a way to win,” Behrens said.
And then there were two.
Less than 24 hours after a laborious win, the Marauders had to reset and get ready to compete in yet another do-or-die contest. This time, though, it was against a more intimidating foe: the No. 1 Red Raiders, who they previously fell to in a 0-1 heart-breaking overtime defeat during the regular season.
“[It] is critical to be prepared,” Behrens said of her team’s short rest. “We have played back-to-back a couple times this year … we have had big games all year long; this was really just another big game.”
Never mind the swift transition, Behrens thought, for she had all the confidence in the world in her team’s mental and physical state preceding the matchup.
During the pregame, Behrens resisted the triumphant, dramatic, movie-like speech.
Heck, they didn’t need any sort of pick-me-up.
“They were prepared,” Behrens simply yet poignantly said. “[I] told them they were going to take away hardware back to MU—was just up to them if they wanted the red runner up or the blue champions.”
Then the game started, and their unwavering, season-driven mindset of believing in themselves and their capability to win a championship was engrained in the Lady Marauders.
But Shippensburg was looking to quash those dreams.
After the Red Raiders were shut out by Sotzin and the Marauders in last year’s conference playoffs, they intended on giving everything they could in order to avoid another degrading exit.
Sotzin, though, had contrasting intentions.
In the first half, Shippensburg landed five shots on goal, while managing nine penalty corners, but Sotzin repudiated each Raider attempt. Not only that, but Megan Donlan, a sophomore amidst the Marauder’s defensive unit, lent a helping hand—or stick, for that matter—blocking a shot nearly eight minutes into the game and salvaging Sotzin’s shutout.
Millersville’s offense, aided by Bomberger, who conducted six corners in the first 35 minutes, kept up with Shippensburg’s attack with three shots on Shippensburg’s goalie, Carenna Neely. Nevertheless, the first half was concluded with the scoreboard displaying double-zeros.
During the 47th
It all started with a penalty corner from Bomberger. Off of the feed from Bomberger, sophomore Lauren Gerhart fired a shot which resulted in a save from Neely. During the kerfuffle in front of the net, a penalty stroke was awarded to Millersville.
Behrens knew just the right person to bequeath the opportunity to.
“I told Rachel [Dickinson] prior to the game, if there was a stroke, it was hers and told her to stick it,” she said, noting, “We have seen her do that a ton of times.”
So, when the time came, Dickinson was more than ready.
“I didn’t even call her name,” Behrens said. “She knew what her job was from then on and she picked up the ball, set up and nailed it.”
The goal proved to be the game-winner. And the context of the goal made it all-the-more “crucial,” as Behrens put it.
“Unless you have been in the goal or the person taking the penalty stroke, it is hard to sum up, but there is no time to think,” she said. “We prepare our players in a way to step up and execute when called on, and Rachel did just that … [I] was proud of her.”
Although the clutch success in Dickinson’s penalty stroke, which tied her for second on the team in goals with seven, this hurled Shippensburg into desperation mode—and, not to mention, a plethora of shots directed towards Sotzin.
After a timeout by Shippensburg with slightly over 20 minutes to go, the Red Raiders deluged Sotzin and her surrounding Millersville defense with shot-after shot… after shot.
Compared to Millersville’s 2, Shippensburg piled on 13 shots throughout the culmination of the match, with 7 penalty corners to help stack on the pressure.
The Raiders’ 19 shots overall ended up being the toughest test for Sotzin through the regular season and playoffs. The keeper was awarded Most Valuable Player for the tournament, along with solidifying her presence in Millersville’s history books with her 10th shutout of the season, which set a school record that was previously set by Angela Lutz in 1992.
“I think Lauren understands her role and position and job as our everyday [goalkeeper],” Behrens said. “She stays in the moment and that serves her well. We prepare her for all we can
and she then trusts her training. Her teammates prepare her daily just as she them … they get plenty of work in practice.”
That poise, training and practice surely helped surge Millersville towards the PSAC Championship; and, as time wound down, it slowly became a realization in Behrens’ head.
“[I’m] not sure if that sunk in yet,” said Behrens. ‘I remember looking at the clock at :57 seconds and saying, ‘This is really gonna happen’ … and then at :23 seconds,” Behrens realized, “We did this.”
When the game clock had finally ticked its last tick, everything became a blur.
“I truly do not recall from time expiring what happened,” Behrens said, explaining some of the sights around her: “[The assistant coach, Casey Horning] and I both were just overcome with joy for the players.”
What were the players doing? Well, use your imagination.
“And then [we] watched Champayne Hess do a backflip,” Behrens said.
Excitement, celebration—and backflips—continued, but Behrens, who jokes she will wait to sleep until December, and her team still have a difficult road ahead: the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Back to work.
On Monday, a selection show was held at the Student Memorial Center for the choosing of seeds and matchups at the tournament. Millersville solidified itself as a No. 2-seed in the South region—only behind Shippensburg—and is slated to play West Chester for the fourth time this season in the Quarterfinals on Saturday at Chryst field in Biemesderfer Stadium.
Will West Chester seek vengeance once again and catch the Marauders napping?
Time will only tell, but the only thing Behrens is concerned about is “preparing for the next step.”
“I told myself that, as amazing as this is, we are not done yet,” she said. “I was up at 4 a.m., still wired from it all and planning our next step.”
For now, though, before she and her team prepares any further, Behrens might want to pinch herself and make sure all of her team’s success is truly happening.
“To beat Ship at Ship, on a field they haven’t lost on since 2011—and shut them out as well—yeah, just a numbing but amazing feeling.”