Assoc. Sports Editor
After the NCAA Division II Semifinals matchup against Shippensburg, the Millersville field hockey team was seen giddy with laughter, brimming with smiles and even orchestrating their own version of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
So they won, right?
Instead of being on the bus to travel over to Norfolk, Va. from Virginia Beach, the Lady Marauders were on their way home to Millersville. On the way, the bus had some mechanical difficulties, and they were delayed for hours in the freezing cold.
“We were delayed over four hours and not one person complained,” Shelly Behrens, the head coach of Millersville’s historic field hockey team in 2013. “Instead, they entertained themselves as a team and enjoyed each other’s company with their own made up dance competition in the 40-45-degree weather. They were quite a sight and very funny.”
Their actions after the game encapsulated their entire attitude throughout the season, Behrens noted.
“Their handling of this … shows their character and this character will be with them throughout their whole lives, and means more than any game’s outcome,” she said.
“The team’s effort was fantastic, as was the play off the bench,” Behrens said. “We just did not get the result we wanted.”
That’s right, on Friday, Nov. 22, Millersville’s record-shattering season came to an end by the Shippensburg Raiders (19-1). Despite trumping Shippensburg in the PSAC Championship, the Marauders (19-3) fell behind early and couldn’t catch up in a 1-3 loss.
“We had a defensive letdown that led to Ship’s third goal, and the first and second were good goals,” Behrens reflected. “I think they made most of their opportunities.”
The Raiders deluged Millersville’s defense from the very beginning, notching 6 penalty corners and catapulting 5 shots in the first 16 minutes. The final shot, by Raider goal-leader Lauren Taylor, was the initial dagger in Millersville’s side—and the 16th overall for the season for Taylor.
Following a flurry of substitutions and an intermission to mull the first half over, Behrens set her squad up for success in the early minutes of the next period.
Senior Samantha Ruane retrieved a pass from Hannah Whitman, who was rushing past the Shippensburg defense off of a failed Raider penalty corner. From the right side of the goal, Ruane ripped a shot off and the ball weaved past the defenders and ended up in the net.
The scoreboard remained stagnant at 1-1 through the next 13 minutes, as both teams clunked shoulders, sticks and determination. Then, though, Shippensburg stole back control.
For the remaining 19 minutes of the game, the Raiders blew out the flame of Millersville’s offense, as the Marauders didn’t get a single shot off. Shippensburg, however, accrued 3 more penalty corners, which yielded two goals from Ari Saytar and Bre White.
“They were not overpowering, nor any of that sort,” Behrens said of the competition. “We just had a slow start and, in my opinion, ran out of time. I think, being down 0-1, at the half, we really played a much better structured second half.”
While Behrens watched the clock, along with Millersville’s magical run, dwindle, she could only watch as her inspired team was about to come off the field for the last time in 2013. But, if Behrens has anything to say about it, she would say that the run has just begun.
“I can say we think big, plan big and go after something to risk than to look to be mediocre,” she said. “We will continue to grow and develop … Regardless of what the win or loss column says, we will be the best we can be for and with each other. We will review our plans for reaching certain standards and put the best plan in place for our players both individually and collectively.”
So, after a season for the record books—scoring the most goals in Millersville history, allowing the least amount of goals, and reaching a PSAC and NCAA peak that has never been reached before by a Division II Millersville field hockey team—how does Behrens’ recipe for yet another head-turning season?
There are three things: Learning from the past, preparing for the future and remembering to celebrate the present.
The season-concluding loss to Shippensburg marked the worst loss this season, and the most goals given up by the PSAC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), Lauren Sotzin.
“Sotzin played a great game. Anyone who has ever played in goal gets that,” Behrens said. “Our defense has been fantastic all year.”
But Behrens does admit it wasn’t the ideal execution from her team.
Talking about her critique of the game, Behrens said, “It is more on what we need to do better and more consistently, and we will look at that and move forward.” She continued: “[That] is what we did from the 2012 season and what we do all the time—evaluate ourselves individually and collectively to improve our game.”
“We will continue to learn and grow this season and the postseason in particular,” Behrens said, noting that “each season is new, and we will just see how we can develop together. 2013 will be a new year and a new team.”
Millersville will have five “amazing seniors who have devoted themselves to Millersville field hockey and our athletic department,” as Behrens put it, graduating and parting ways with the squad next year: Ruane, Mary Atkins, Emily Lichford, Brittany Troutman and Champayne Hess.
“They embody selflessness and have truly forged a path for this team and program,” Behrens said. “You can never replace people, but we are growing, just as when they joined us.”
Behrens went on to explain how, in these graduating seniors’ freshman year, the club had just four wins. However, in 2011, they climbed nearly to .500 with a 7-11 record. Then, they surged to 14-7 in 2012 and had a shot at a PSAC Championship. Their careers climaxed with the successes this season—a conference title and NCAA Final Four appearance—which “is all due to what these young women have committed to and believed in, and I, for one, am so thankful for all they have done for MU and MU field hockey,” Behrens said.
Although the leadership and tenacity cannot dare be replaced, Behrens and her coaching staff are continuously out searching for the new wave of talent.
“Recruiting is a necessary evil in college athletics,” she said. “We have over 300 young women interested in our program for 2014 … To me, recruiting is a work in progress as our needs our continually growing and changing. We look to find the overall right person academically and athletically.”
With these key players, including Hess, whose 10 goals led the Marauders, Behrens surely has her hands full this offseason, and it just goes to show how much of a daunting task recruiting can be.
“We work very hard 12 months out of the year on academic and talent identification,” Behrens elaborated. “The players that come in to MU know [it] is going to be a challenge, and we want those willing to accept that challenge to take our program to the highest level possible.”
Where they will go is unknown, but, according to the massive amounts of improvement over the past 3 years and success this year, the future looks bright for Behrens and Millersville’s field hockey team.
“I like what we are doing and how we are doing it, and after individual and team review sessions, we will look to see how to be the best we can in 2014,” Behrens said. “But, for now, I want them to really enjoy what they have accomplished, as it is truly remarkable.”
This fall has been one for the ages for the Lady Marauders. Records have been rewritten, intimidating foes have been dethroned, and Millersville has planted itself as a Division II powerhouse.
But it didn’t end there.
Net-minder Sotzin, with her Division II-leading .56 goals allowed per game, .860 save percentage and 12 shutouts, was recently named Synapse Sports Division II Defensive player of the year, as well as an All-America First Teamer; freshman Arianna Grays, who scored a total of 7 goals and accumulated 16 points throughout the season, was chosen as the Rookie of the Year and a member of the All-Rookie Team; and 3 others were given national honors for their output this season.
Along with Sotzin, Sarah Bomberger and Rachel Dickinson, who go 2 then 3 in total goals and points for the club, were picked for the Synapse Sports All-America First Team; Hess landed a spot on the Second Team because of her offensive prowess; also, Olivia Hershey, a Lancaster-native whose accuracy flourished with a .750 shots on goal percentage, joined Grays for a place on the All-Rookie Team.
Referring to her own team, Behrens said this: “They are the hardest working group of young women, and we challenge and demand so much from them. But they know if you think big and dream big, you can achieve big.”
Not only has the team usurped expectations and proved itself a formidable foe on the field, but off the field, Behrens explained, these student-athletes are just as special.
After they work tirelessly at their sport, they diligently fulfill their roles as college students and “excel” in school, Behrens said. Not only that, but their motto of selflessness permeated through the entire group—and that was made obvious before they geared up for the NCAA Tournament.
The day before beating two-time defending National Champion West Chester, the Lady Marauders visited young students during recess at Three Oaks Elementary School. There, they spent over an hour with the children, giving them field hockey lessons and—yes—signing autographs.
“Our players were fantastic with the elementary school kids,” she said. “The kids came to our game the next day and wrote players thank you cards, which our team read out loud in our team meeting following our loss [against Shippensburg] and post-dinner.”
Despite falling to the Raiders—who went on to win the NCAA Championship by defeating an unbeaten LIU Post team two days later—a week before Thanksgiving, there’s plenty of things Behrens is thankful to her team for.
“Some teams never get to a PSAC Championship, nor do they ever get to an NCAA Final Four; some folks coach and play without ever experiencing this—we got to experience all of this in one season,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud of all this team has handled and how they have handled it. It has been a fantastic experience.”