The SUNY New Paltz field hockey team won their second consecutive SUNYAC Championship Saturday after defeating SUNY Cortland in a shootout 5-4.
The No. 3 Lady Hawks trailed the No. 1 Red Dragons 4-2 with 16:40 left in regulation before fourth-year midfield Lauren Link scored on an assist from fourth-year forward Danielle Conklin. Down 4-3 with 3:32 to play, the Lady Hawks tied the game with a score off of a penalty corner from first-year forward Kayla McKeveny, ultimately forcing the game into overtime and into a shootout.
Second-year forward Dani Ackerman shot the game winning goal in the second round, making it the second year in a row the Lady Hawks defeated Cortland in a shootout for the championship.
“As a team we saw this game as an amazing opportunity and testament of all the hard work we have put in over the course of the season,” Ackerman said. “Going into the championship game this year, I feel we were extremely confident in ourselves and one another. We really came out on fire and played with our hearts, which led us to come out on top.”
Head Coach Shanna Vitale said the goal throughout the game was to play up the team’s strengths, focusing on the passing game and pressuring Cortland’s players for the ball, breaking down their strengths and bringing the ball out of the middle.
“It was a total team effort,” Vitale said. “They knew it was all or nothing. The communication never stopped and they were constantly talking, both the reserved players and the players on the field. The energy was ridiculous.”
It was that type of energy and positivity that helped the Lady Hawks push through and tie up the game, fourth-year captain Toni Pjetri said.
“While Cortland let up because they thought they had it in the bag, we continued to fight and put pressure on them, which led to us making a comeback and scoring two goals to tie the game,” Pjetri said.
Vitale said she was not concerned when the game was forced into a shootout with Pjetri in goal, whose explosiveness and ability to excel in a high pressure environment is “her cup of tea.”
But while the winning shootout goal from Ackerman secured the program’s second SUNYAC Championship win and fortified that the team would once again compete in the 2013 NCAA Div. III Field Hockey Championship Tournament, the team didn’t know at that exact moment they had clinched the title.
“We actually didn’t know that we won,” Conklin said. “We didn’t realize that it was sudden death. We thought we still have another pair of shooters to go and then the refs turned to us and said ‘that’s game.’ It was amazing.”
Conklin’s name, along with fourth-year captain Alyssa Stock, will appear on the roster for the 2013 Front Rush/National Field Hockey Coaches Association NCAA Div. III Senior Game. Conklin, Stock and fourth-year captain Madeliene Forrester have earned First-Team All-SUNYAC honors, with Ackerman receiving Second-Team All-SUNYAC honors.
Vitale, in her fifth year as head coach for the Lady Hawks, has been named the 2013 SUNYAC Coach of the Year for the third year in a row. She said this championship win, as well as last year’s, are both special in their own way.
“Last season, it all sort of fell into place,” Vitale said. “This season there were a lot of ups and downs and obstacles we had to overcome. We didn’t win all of our games. We had to overcome adversity and peak at the right moment.”
But Vitale said it is the character and chemistry built by overcoming such adversity that lead this year’s team to the title.
“Their failures are what made their successes,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing when that happens.”
The Lady Hawks defeated William Smith College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 5-2. Conklin was a part of every goal scoring four goals and adding one assist. Pjetri added eight saves.
“The goal that started the game off absolutely set the tone,” Vitale said. “Danielle [Conklin] just took it reverse, and a reverse chip into the corner. It is one that should be on ESPN Top 10. It was picture perfect and the energy from that goal lifted the entire team.”
The Lady Hawks will now take on No. 5 Bowdoin College in the second round on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 2 p.m.