Hawks Field Hockey Hosts First NCAA Tournament Game In Program History

Photo by Holly Lipka.

[slideshow_deploy id=’30928’]

The field hockey team has won its fourth-straight State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) title after defeating SUNY Geneseo in the semifinal and SUNY Cortland in the final of the SUNYAC Tournament.

“It’s an amazing feeling to graduate and be able to say that I was a part of a program that won its conference four years in a row,” Hawks fourth-year co-Captain Jessica Caruana said. “Not many programs or people are able to say that they’ve made such accomplishments. It was also a proud moment because I remember freshman year talking to [Dani Ackerman] about winning SUNYACs for the first time and her and I both agreed to each other that we need to do this every year until we graduate, or else.”

In the semifinal game of the SUNYAC Tournament, No. 2 seed New Paltz faced off against No. 3 seed SUNY Geneseo on Wednesday, Nov. 4. This was a rematch of last year’s SUNYAC title game, which the Hawks won 4-0 in a shutout on Nov. 8, 2014. The Hawks eliminated the Knights from the SUNYAC Tournament for a third-straight year.

The Hawks entered the second half down 1-0 after Knights second-year midfielder/forward Diana Ruggiero scored a goal off a penalty corner at the 32:19 mark. About eighteen-and-a-half minutes into the second half, Hawks third-year back Colleen Roemer scored her first goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1. A little over two-and-a-half minutes later, Caruana scored her ninth goal of the season on a penalty stroke to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead that they would not surrender.

New Paltz held a 27-10 advantage in shots and a 13-6 cushion in penalty corners. Knights fourth-year goalkeeper Dayna Mercer notched 14 saves in a losing effort.

The Hawks then defeated the No. 1 seed SUNY Cortland on the road on Saturday, Nov. 7 by a score of 4-1 to clinch their fourth-consecutive SUNYAC title. Entering the game, the Red Dragons held an 8-1 home record on the season, while the Hawks were an even 4-4 on the road. Cortland had defeated New Paltz at home earlier this season on Saturday, Sept. 26 by a score of 1-0.

“Beating Cortland in the finals felt incredible,” Hawks fourth-year co-Captain Dani Ackerman said “This is a team we have always struggled against during regular season play. We played as a solid unit and poured our hearts into that game. This game was a total team effort and I am so proud of each and every one of my teammates for the effort and heart they put into every last minute of this game.”

Similar to the game against Geneseo, New Paltz entered the second half trailing 1-0 after Cortland’s second-year midfielder/back Megan O’Brien found the back of the cage at the 8:59 mark. Less than six minutes into the second half, Ackerman tied the game at 1-1 with her fifth goal of the season. Hawks first-year forward Serena Capsello would put New Paltz ahead with her third goal of the season at the 43:31 mark. Second-year midfielder Hayley Kim would make it a 3-1 game with her second goal of the season, thanks in part to an assist by Caruana. Capsello would score her second goal of the game at the 62:44 mark, thanks to an assist by second-year forward Sam Eberle. In total, the Hawks scored four goals in the second half. Entering the game, the Red Dragons had allowed only eight goals in the second half all season.

“I have heard stories from my teammates about their past SUNYAC title games which made me want to play in one as well,” Capsello said. “I was nervous about playing in such a big game as a nonstarter, but was excited to get the chance to contribute towards the win and be a part of such a big game. When I scored the go ahead goal it was the best feeling and I could not believe it happened. I could hear our sideline going crazy and my teammates all ran to me in excitement on the field. It was an experience I will never forget.”

The Red Dragons outshot the Hawks 15-13 and held a slim 7-6 advantage in penalty corners. Hawks fourth-year goalkeeper Alayna Wageman tallied nine saves in the victory, while Red Dragons first-year goalkeeper Kailynne Reinoehl made seven stops. Entering the game, Reinoehl ranked first in the SUNYAC conference with a goals-against average (GAA) of .755, a .867 save percentage and seven shutouts. The four goals Reinoehl allowed against New Paltz was the most she had allowed all season. This was the third time in history New Paltz defeated Cortland in the SUNYAC title game, as the Hawks were victorious against the Red Dragons in 2012 and 2013 with double-overtime shootout wins.

Ackerman was named the SUNYAC Tournament MVP as she fired off three shots, two of which were on goal, and scored the game-tying goal in the SUNYAC title game.

“It really meant a lot to earn the SUNYAC Tournament MVP award,” she said. “I am grateful to be surrounded by such an amazing support system. From my talented, hard-working teammates, our amazing coaching staff, my teammates going wild on the sideline, the fans that drove hours to see us, and everyone who tuned into the live-video at home. I have received enormous levels of support and encouragement throughout my career. These are the people who have made it possible for me to become the athlete I am today. I am so thankful for every last cheer and word of encouragement that have driven me to reach for new levels of greatness.”

Caruana, Wageman, third-year forward Kayla McKeveny, and Hawks fourth-year back Sarah Sansone joined Ackerman on the All-Tournament Team.

After the game, it was announced that Ackerman and Caruana were named SUNYAC Offensive and Defensive players of the Year, respectively. Ackerman and Caruana were also named to the All-SUNYAC First Team for the second time in their careers. McKeveny and Roemer were named to the All-SUNYAC Second Team. This is the second time McKeveny has received this honor and the first time for Roemer.

Hawks Head Coach Shanna Vitale was named SUNYAC Coach of the Year for the fourth-time in her career at New Paltz.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11 the Hawks defeated Simmons College 1-0 in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. This is the first time any team from SUNY New Paltz has hosted an NCAA Tournament game.

“[Hosting an NCAA Tournament game] was definitely one of the most exciting things ever, especially for seniors, because we didn’t think we had another home game left,” Ackerman said. “To get that home game back and to have our fans here as a support system and to see the way our campus came together for us was amazing. We had so much support and the energy level really helps us in these kind of games. To be here, our senior year, it was one of the most amazing things that we really didn’t expect. That surprise made it even more awesome for us.”

Less than four minutes into the game, Kim scored her third goal of the season off a defensive save from Simmons’ third-year midfielder Amy Wilson. That goal broke a streak of 323:38 scoreless minutes of defense from Simmons, as the Sharks had not allowed a goal since Saturday, Oct. 17.

The Hawks defense of Caruana, Sansone and Roemer kept scoring opportunities at a minimum for the Sharks all game. Wageman made just two stops in the cage, but one of those saves came at the beginning of the second half in a one-on-one situation with Wageman as the last line of defense. Sharks second-year forward Julie Saltamartini broke past the New Paltz back line at the midfield, but Wageman charged out of the goal and met Saltamartini at the top of the circle, knocking the ball away to avert the Shark scoring chance.

Just a few minutes later, Saltamartini nearly scored again but her shot was stopped thanks to a defensive save by Ackerman.

The win improved the Hawks’ record to 16-5, tying the program record for wins in a season. The Hawks advance to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament for the third-straight year and will face No. 9 Messiah College on Saturday, Nov. 15 in Ewing, New Jersey.

Caruana said the team has learned from mistakes made in the second round of the tournament the past two years and they are aiming to learn from those mistakes this year.

“From past experiences, there have been times we were strong the whole game and at the very end we just got frantic and lost,” she said. “We know what to expect by keeping our goals in mind and staying strong around the goal. Remembering what happened the year before but moving on from it and building from it.”