So Close: Field Hockey Team Comes Up Short In Patriot League Final

It was quite a magical ride for the Colgate field hockey team this season. After losing its first three games of the season, the team then won 11 of its 15 games to propel the women into the Patriot League Tournament. The entire team displayed the courage, perseverance and brilliance that define a winner. This squad played to the best of its abilities over the weekend and, regardless of what anyone says, the Raiders came out winners.

The Raiders began the Patriot League Tournament against Holy Cross, a team they had narrowly defeated during the regular season. Since the Raiders were the host of this year’s tournament, one constant they could rely heavily upon was motivation and support from their dedicated followers. In the end, that could have been the deciding factor in Saturday’s match.

Just as in the regular season, the Crusaders proved to be a tough task for the Raiders. For the much of the first half, Colgate was outplayed by Holy Cross, but the home team went into halftime only down 1-0, with the only goal of the half coming from Crusader forward Christina Zorzi in the 29th minute. Time after time, sophomore goalie Jacque DeMarco showed why she was named the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year, making saves left and right. Due to her stellar play, the Raiders were very much in the game, even though the Raiders were not playing up to par. But everyone at Tyler’s Field knew the real Raiders would show up sooner rather than later.

Indeed, the true Colgate team did show up in the second half and it made its mark. The Raiders came out with a determined mindset and scored four goals in 11 minutes to seal the game. As it had all season, the team turned to its leaders when it fell behind, and the seniors did not disappoint. It all began when senior Natalie Heller received a perfect pass from senior tri-captain Ashley Schneider that finally put the Raiders on the board. With the game tied at one, the junior tandem of Jenn Weisholz and Sarah McCarthy then stepped up. The pair team up on McCarthy’s go-ahead goal, her ninth of the season. Undeterred, the Raiders kept on the offensive, with first-year Natali Plesniarski netting a goal off of a pass from senior tri-captain Kath Shelley, and McCarthy following with her second goal in the 53rd minute to complete the Raiders’ swift and potent offensive attack.

The Raiders’ ability to make the necessary adjustments at halftime was one of the deciding factors that paved the way towards the semifinal victory. The Raiders came out with a tenacity that was severely lacking in the first half and it seemed that the Raiders really fed off the anxious and boisterous crowd. Even with the sluggish first half, fans could not have expected more from their Colgate Raiders.

The Patriot League Championship: the Raiders could not have asked for a better setting to avenge their regular season loss to American. However, if the Raiders were to even begin thinking about victory, they would need to bring their best game of the year, as they were facing off with one of the top-10 teams in the country.

The game began very unpromisingly for the Raiders as Camila Infante scored a mere 30 seconds into the contest. The Eagle forward scored the goal unassisted, as she took a wild shot that just got by DeMarco. Subsequently, the Raiders had their work cut out for them, especially considering the imposing American defense. As most good teams do, American did not allow Colgate to attain any offensive flow early in the game. Meanwhile, the Eagles managed to turn their defense into offense, scoring again in the 10th minute as Heidi Hershberger took a pass from Denise Infante to give American an early 2-0 lead.

Down by two, the Raiders attempted to make it a game. Plesniarski was on the run and the only thing preventing her from a goal was Eagle goalie Allison Fayfich. As Plesniarski made her move, she was advertently tripped from behind by an American player, but the only call that was made was for a penalty corner and Colgate was stymied again. As expected, American held the lead heading into halftime but the Raiders were right with the Eagles, step for step. Unfortunately, all that hard work, discipline and teamwork was not reflected on the scoreboard.

Both teams were held scoreless for 53 minutes before American’s Javiera Villagra scored an unassisted goal in the 64th minute to give American a 3-0 lead. The Raiders tried everything to get back into the game, but with every opportunity, the Raiders endured a setback thanks to a bad call or simply bad luck, such as one shot that hit the post. In the end, American University claimed its second straight Patriot League Tournament Championship with a 3-0 victory.

Although the Raider accomplishments were a team effort, special merit must be given to the seven graduating seniors on the team. Heller, Schneider, Shelley, fellow tri-captain Courtney Collins, Sally Mazzochi, Nancy Miller and Kelly McKallagat were all distinct leaders whose guidance on and off the field will be missed.

After she departed the field for the final time, Heller gave some of her advise to next year’s squad.

“Value teamwork and positive energy,” she said. “Don’t let the little things get in the way and remember that you are a team out there, headed for one goal. It’s hard to get that united connected feeling within a team, but if you are respected and supported by your teammates nothing can get in the way. Set your standards high and use what you have learned so far to guide you. Be active and make the season what you dream it being. You never want to regret anything.”

McKallagat reaffirmed that next season’s team will have the chance to repeat this year’s success. “There is a lot of talent on our team and I have faith that they will be successful next year,” she said.

As one of the elder statesman of the defense, McKallagat hands off her reins to junior Jenn Weisholz. Weisholz will have her hands full, but there is no reason why she and the rest of the Raider defense cannot succeed next year.

“With all the adversity we faced this season, our team was quite special,” she said. “We accomplished each and every goal we set for ourselves and that is really something to be proud of. We went from being polled fifth this year in our league to runners-up, to a winning season, to beating some of the top teams we’ve ever faced and to becoming a family. Every challenge brought us closer and made us work harder.”

The team’s seven seniors were the core of this 2004 Raider team that always saw the light at the end of the tunnel through the toughest of travails. But while it may be the end of an era for these undeniable leaders, it is also time for new leaders to emerge from the younger group.