The West Chester University field hockey team had its NCAA tournament hopes left in the hands of the selection committee. On Monday afternoon, all of their hopes and wishes were answered when they received a bid into tournament play. The Golden Rams opened up the first round on the road on Saturday, Nov. 14 against their biggest rivals and reigning NCAA National Champions, the Millersville Marauders.
After having five out of their last seven meetings decided in overtime, a matchup between the Golden Rams and Marauders is always one for the history books, and this first round game was no different. Like she seems to do almost every game, Rachal Toppi started off the scoring for WCU in the 23rd minute with her 22nd goal of the season for the 1-0 lead. That would be the lone goal in the first half, which was controlled entirely by the Golden Rams. West Chester held a 5-0 advantage on shots through the first half, and a 3-0 advantage on penalty corners. Courtney Weaver got the Marauders on the board in the 43rd minute with her second goal of the season, both of which came against West Chester to knot things up at 1-1. For the sixth time in their last eight meetings, the two teams were unable to decide a winner and headed to a sudden death overtime, both fighting to keep their quest for a national championship alive.
The first 15 minute overtime period was not enough for a game winner as West Chester created the only shot in the period. Late in the first overtime period, Olivia Hershey was sprung on a breakaway for Millersville, but got tangled up and could not get a shot off. The second overtime was the same story and the game seemed destined to go to penalty strokes. Toppi was not going to let that happen, with 1:26 remaining in the second overtime, she was sprung on a breakaway off a perfect pass from Alexis Versak, and she buried the shot into the cage to give the Golden Rams the 2-1 win and send them to their second straight NCAA Final Four appearance. After leaving towards the end of last year’s final four matchup between the Marauders and Golden Rams with a serious leg injury, Toppi was playing this game with a chip on her shoulder. Her team needed her to step up to the plate, and with two goals in the game, she did exactly that.
“Millersville is a great defensive team. So, in the past, we have struggled attacking against them, and attacking is not a problem for us, since we are a high scoring team. And they never attack much, but when they do, they capitalize on the opportunities and manage to tie up the game. But this game we just put the past behind us. Our goal was to win and advance to the final four. We practiced all week for them and made sure we attacked more and kept pushing and playing. It was a great team win,” junior midfielder Dayle Paustian stated regarding the impressive win over Millersville.
Millersville’s season comes to an end after reaching three consecutive NCAA tournaments and four consecutive PSAC championship games. West Chester now advances to play No. 1 seed East Stroudsburg in the NCAA semifinals. “ESU is also great defensively. We just have to attack and keep pushing and be aggressive on offense. We have to capitalize on the few opportunities that we will get on the offensive side. Defensively, and as a team, we just have to make sure we keep communicating with each other. When we are all on the same page, we are unstoppable. All of us are super pumped for this game Friday. My coaches will do everything to prepare us for them but at the end of the day, it’s when we step on the field and we have to make sure to play our best,” Paustian said. This will be the third meeting between the two teams; both of the first two resulted in ESU victories. The NCAA tournament is not familiar territory for the Warriors, as this year is their first appearance since consecutive appearances in 2009 and 2010. This year’s appearance in the fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance for the Golden Rams, including back to back National Championships in 2011 and 2012. “I do believe our veteran experiences of qualifying for the NCAAs will benefit us. We know that with these types of games, you give it your all. What happened in the past doesn’t matter, it’s a whole new season with the NCAA tournament. I think everyone knows what’s at stake and we just have to make sure to keep working hard and to give it our all,” said Paustian. The semifinal matchup will be held in Bloomsburg on Friday Nov. 20.
Dylan Harrison is a fourth-year student majoring in communications with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at DH785892@wcupa.edu.