Merrimack field hockey battles valiantly to #1 team in country
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. – After playing just under 75 minutes of some of the best field hockey they have played all season, the sixth-ranked Merrimack College field hockey team fell in the NCAA Championship game on a converted penalty shot from top-ranked East Stroudsburg 4:42 into overtime on Sunday afternoon.
Score: #1 East Stroudburg 1, #6 Merrimack 0
Records: #6 Merrimack (16-6) | #1 East Stroudsburg (19-3)
Location: Steph Petit Stadium | Bloomsburg, Pa.
How It Happened
Merrimack entered Sunday’s championship as a heavy underdog to the first-ranked team in Division II, but within the first few minutes of the opening half it was clear those assumptions were wrong. While both teams approached the game with different styles of play, it was apparent that Merrimack was the faster team.
Merrimack would use its team speed to carry the ball into the offensive end and create opportunities, including a near miss from freshman Mary McNeil (Canton, Mass.) on a deflection that sailed just high of the crossbar. Merrimack would create six penalty corners in the opening half, but were unable to find the back of the net.
East Stroudsburg responded with its own style, spreading their players and using long passes to move the ball up field. Stroudsburg would fire off 11 shots in the first half, but three saves from senior goalkeeper Madison Davis (San Jose, Calif.) and three defensive saves from senior Christine Zubkus (Dover, N.H.), and juniors Elizabeth Egan(South Dennis, Mass.) and Kaitlin McCauley (Newburyport, Mass.) would keep the game scoreless headed into halftime
The second half would favor East Stroudsburg a bit more than the even first half, as they maintained more possession and outshot the Warriors by a fair margin. But as their offense looked sharper, so did Davis’ goalkeeping. The senior would make eight saves in the second half, including some unbelievable stops on close-range and one-on-one shots from East Stroudsburg to keep Merrimack’s championship hopes alive at the end of 70 minutes.
Merrimack would control the pace of play for the early parts of the seven vs. seven overtime, keeping the ball in the offensive end of the field and earning a penalty corner just 1:10 in. A shot from junior Nicole Bradley (Essex, Mass.) off of the penalty corner would be blocked down by East Stroudsburg.
A green card on East Stroudsburg at 72:04 in overtime would put Merrimack up a player, making it seven vs. six, but they were unable to capitalize on the man-advantage. Two minutes later an aggressive attack from East Stroudsburg called for aggressive defense from Merrimack. On a one-on-one approach from East Stroudsburg, the Merrimack defense would make a play on the ball, causing both the ball carrier and defender to go down in the box. The officials would award a penalty stroke to East Stroudsburg as a result of the play, and despite a great save attempt from Davis, the stroke would find the back of the net, earning East Stroudsburg the title.
The field hockey team capped off a historic season with one of their best efforts of the year, but unfortunately fell short to a team that was amongst the top-ranked squads all season.
Inside The Numbers
- Playing a role that can be thankless and not featured much in the box score or represented in statistics, junior Sarah Sparks (Falmouth, Maine) was the rock for Merrimack’s defense all weekend, shutting down the best player for both squads they faced in Bloomsburg.
- In what was an incredible final game of her career, Davis made a season-high 11 stops against one of the most potent offenses in the country.
- The three defensive saves for Merrimack in the first half were also a season-high in one game for the team, a true testament to their level of play in the championship game.
- The lone goal scorer of the weekend for Merrimack, Bradley led her team on Sunday with five shots in the contest.