Assoc. Sports Editor
One down, two to go.
On Saturday, Millersville’s No. 2-seeded field hockey team (19-2) defeated two-time Division II NCAA defending National Champion West Chester (14-6), 1-0. Before this season, after falling 0-8 all-time against the current No. 4-ranked Golden Rams, the Marauders are now 4-0 against West Chester in 2013, and now they look ahead to the NCAA Division II Semifinals.
“All-in-all, the past two weeks have been just incredible,” Millersville head coach Shelly Behrens said. “But, then again, so has the entire season.”
The 2013 season has caused many jaws to drop, much ink to be added to the record books, and brought in a new face as a contender for the best-of-the-best in Division II field hockey.
“Two years ago, we were 7-11,” Behrens said. “Now we are one of four teams left and have a chance to compete and bring home to MU a Division II field hockey National Championship.”
Continuing their historic and most successful season in Division II, the Millersville players founnd themselves two wins away from bringing home the goods—but West Chester was firmly placed in their path.
It was hard to tell that 605 fans were in the stands of Biemesderfer Stadium supporting the Marauders, because it was all Golden Rams to start the game off.
Through just the first 10 minutes, West Chester put the pressure on by executing three corner kicks and firing two shots. After Behrens substituted a clean slate of players in to try and quell the Rams’ surge, the threat was only exacerbated, as WCU continued to test the Most Valuable Player from the PSAC Tournament and goalie for the Marauders, Lauren Sotzin.
West Chester was awarded three more penalty corners in the next 15 minutes and managed three more shots, including a try that went wide of Sotzin’s goal from the 2013 PSAC Player of the Year for West Chester, Kelsi Lykens.
And then it was Millersville’s turn.
During the 27th minute, Millersville shot back West Chester’s assault on Sotzin to the Rams’ goalie, Audree Bonavita. Marauder shot leader Rachel Dickinson started it off with a shot that Bonavita rejected. Then, freshman Olivia Hershey hooked a shot towards the net which was also saved by Bonavita. After those two shots, which were separated by a mere trio of seconds, a penalty corner was awarded to Sarah Bomberger.
From the right side of the goal, Bomberger sent the ball towards Dickinson 17 yards out. Dickinson dribbled the ball for a second, and then flung the ball to the left side of Bonavita, where Bomberger slyly placed herself after her corner. With a light tap-in just a few feet from the goal, the Marauders found themselves up 1-0.
“She is fierce on the field,” Behrens said of not only Bomberger’s offensive leadership, but her defensive efforts as well, lauding her output during both practice and games. “Bomby is a great defender as well. She trains diligently and asks so much of herself.”
“Her preparations and her teammates” are the solution for Bomberger’s success during 2013, which includes a near .500 shooting percentage and a team-leading 23 points from her eight goals and seven assists.
Although they found themselves down at the end of the first half, West Chester didn’t let up and stormed Sotzin with two surges of their own before the game was done.
About 25 minutes into the second half, Lauren McGinley popped the cap off of the Golden Rams’ fizzing offense with a corner. Lykens followed up with a shot which got blocked by Millersville’s defensive squad. Following Lykens’ attempt, Sotzin saved a shot by WCU’s Kelsey Cheek. Not even two minutes later, McGinley and Lykens served the Marauders defense with a case of déjà vu, with a shot instantly off of another corner.
With 13 minutes to play, Millersville could smell the salty air of Virginia Beach, the spot where they would face Shippensburg in the semis if they could hold off another West Chester assault, which came at the conclusion of the game’s 70 minutes.
In the final four minutes of the match, West Chester pulled off three corners, which were all orchestrated by Alayna Brown. The only shot to come out of Brown’s corners, however, came in the 70th minute.
The Golden Rams’ last-ditch attempt at winning was snuffed before Sotzin could lay a pad on it, and the Marauders’ stingy defense, led by their goalkeeper, prevailed once again. Sotzin notched her 11th shutout, and, not to mention, her third straight postseason doughnut sold to her hungry postseason opponents.
“Lauren does her job and understands what we need her to do. What no one sees is how she and our goalkeeping unit train every day,” said Behrens, who herself played keeper back in her days at Old Dominion. “People do not realize how challenging goal-scoring and shutouts are to come by … She loves playing in the net and loves the action,” although, Behrens added, “I would be okay with less shots on occasion, but she is having a blast.”
Now Behrens and her crew pack their bags and continue their quest towards a National Championship, a plank they haven’t reached since being a part of Division III and making it to Championship in 1986.
“These kids weren’t even born!” Behrens spoke of the time when Millersville previously found itself in this large of a pile of success. “Sometimes, people forget they are 18-20-year-olds playing a game.”
With the Millersville field hockey organization revived with the help of Behrens and her assistants, Casey Horning and Maria Thompson, the Marauders can now forge their own path to glory—just like Behrens did over 20 years ago.
“I was fortunate to play in two National Championships and several Conference and NCAA Regional games,” Behrens said, including one National Championship with Old Dominion. “Postseason is another animal, and sometimes the experience of being there is great to share, but experiencing it first-hand is the best teacher.”
Behrens explained that coaching is a completely different—and nerve-wracking—experience, noting how it takes her hours following a game, win or loss, to be able to calm down from the stresses of playing “a chess match,” as she called it, from the sidelines rather than playing the game out on the field.
“It is without question the most unnerving feeling as a coach … once the whistle goes, it is a matter of making adjustments, corrections, calling in plays and managing the game,” Behrens said. “To me, when you play, you have control over your actions; as a coach, I can only rely [on] that we have prepared them to make the best decisions.”
Behrens’ coaching and her team’s preparations will be put to the test once again against Shippensburg, who Millersville is 1-1 against and defeated in order to lasso the PSAC Championship. The game will be played on Saturday at The Virginia Beach National Training Center, Va., where Millersville has outscored its opponents 13-3 so far in 2013—and is eerily close to Behrens’ alma mater.
“It is exciting for me to return to Virginia … but this journey with this group of kids has been so memorable and fun,” the homecoming head coach said. “And I don’t think they are done yet.”