Courtesy of Elizabethtown Sports Information
ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. -- The Elizabethtown College field hockey team finally got the monkey off its back by winning its first-ever Landmark Conference Championship Saturday at Wolf Field over Susquehanna. Nicole Leaf scored the game-winning goal, the only one of the game, in double overtime to give the Blue Jays their first conference title since 1987.
"I'm at a loss for words right now," said head coach Brandy Michael immediately following the game. "The team has worked so hard, and the program as a whole has worked hard each and every year to get to this point. To see this team make this happen, and to see all the alums that came back to watch and witness this win, it was awesome."
The first meeting between the two teams in late October was a goal fest, with ten total between the two sides. Elizabethtown (14-4) came out on top, 6-4. Saturday's championship was quite the opposite in terms of the scoring, but that also doesn't mean the teams weren't without good scoring chances.
The Jays' defense knew it had to slow down Susquehanna (15-4) forwards Hunter Pitman and Taylor Franco, the top two goal scorers in the Landmark Conference.
Jordan Burkepile inserted a penalty corner and Pitman wound up with the shot. The scoring opportunity was stopped by Hannah Mack and Mini Kifolo's follow-up went right. It was the final chance on-goal for Susquehanna in the first half.
After an early shot by Allison McLamb, E-town wasn't generating a whole lot on the offensive side until the final ten minutes of the first half. Kelsey Detweiler had a shot saved on the line by Tessa Woodring with goalie Emily DiGaetano out of position.
Olivia Beachley maneuvered her way into the shooting circle with under a minute to play and fired off a shot that was saved by DiGaetano. The game went into halftime scoreless, 0-0.
Elizabethtown started the second half like it did the first, putting the River Hawks back in their own end. Megan Eppley ripped a shot from out top that drilled the pad of DiGaetano as E-town had two early penalty corners.
Pitman and Emily Novakovich had shots stopped by Margo Donlin, who stepped into the cage out of halftime. The teams traded scoring chances over much of the second half, but nobody could find the back of the cage.
Since 70 minutes weren't enough to decide a champion, overtime was needed to do so. The field opened up much more for the 7v7 periods.
A yellow card was assessed to E-town nearly midway through the first OT period, but Susquehanna couldn't take advantage of the man-up opportunity, and instead, evened it out with a yellow card of their own.
The Blue Jays took it to the River Hawks in the first OT, trying to end the game. Leaf and Addie Stand had cracks at goal, but both were saved. Later in the overtime, Leaf and Emma Christman had shots stopped by DiGaetano.
Elizabethtown outshot Susquehanna 7-1 in the first overtime, and after the game was still searching for the winning goal, a second was needed. E-town had the only three shots of the second OT period.
The Blue Jays began with the ball and pinned the Hawks back once more. Leaf, twice, had shots saved by DiGaetano. At 87:50, Leaf inserted an E-town penalty corner, and at 87:54, she had scored the championship-clinching goal for her team.
Leaf inserted the ball into Eppley, who was stationed out top. Eppley slung the ball back into Leaf, who stepped into play at the left side of the cage. With a perfectly played ball to the senior midfielder, all Leaf had to do was one-touch the ball into the cage to give Elizabethtown its first-ever Landmark Conference championship.
"I was just hoping we could execute and keep it in there," Michael said of the game-winning corner play. "We had all pushed up and it would have been tough to get back to stop a break. I saw Megan get the shot off and hoped Nicole would be able to finish it off, and she did."
Leaf's heroics earned her the nod for Landmark Conference Most Valuable Player.
When asked about what it meant to see her seniors win a conference title, Michael had this to say: "Since they were freshmen, coming in to a program with a big tradition having gone to the playoffs and just hadn't been able to finish. Watching them win as seniors is just a testament to their hard work and dedication coming in to each season."
The game, having been a low-scoring affair, played right into Elizabethtown's strengths. The Blue Jays were the top defense in the Landmark Conference this season, and shut down the league's top-scoring offense in Susquehanna. The play of Halley Donlin, Kendra Downey, and Renee Grillcan't be underestimated after slowing down and stopping many of the River Hawks' chances. Mack and Donlin combined for the shutout, only the second time all season Susquehanna was unable to score, and first time since Sept. 3.
The field hockey team will head to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time since 2006 and will await to find out who they will play first. Brackets from the NCAA Selection Show should be revealed sometime Sunday evening.