The West Chester University field hockey team saw their season come to an end this week with a 2-1 loss to Shippensburg in the semifinals of the PSAC Tournament. The Golden Rams advanced to the semis after defeating Indiana University of Pennsylvania 4-1 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
While the end to the season may come as a disappoint for these Golden Rams, they have plenty to be proud of, and five members of the team received PSAC all-conference honors for their play this season. Rachal Toppi and Dayle Paustian were both named PSAC First-Team All-Conference, Marnie Kusakavitch and Maya Gulliksen were named PSAC Second-Team All-Conference, and Mackenzie Mlkvy was named to the PSAC Third-Team All-Conference.
Toppi was also named 2016 PSAC Athlete of the Year. Toppi played in and started all 19 games this season for WCU, leading all scorers with 23 goals on the season and a total of 51 points. Toppi’s 23 goals and 51 points are most in the conference. Toppi has scored at least 22 goals in each of her first three seasons at West Chester, adding to her Division II program record of 69 goals.
Gulliksen was named 2016 PSAC Freshman of the Year, the first time a Golden Ram has claimed the award since 2014, when Toppi earned the honor. Gulliksen has six goals and four assists in her first season at West Chester and has obviously had no problems adjusting to the game at the collegiate level
West Chester opened up the PSAC Tournament in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, Nov. 1 against IUP. As they always seem to do, the Golden Rams jumped out to an early lead in the third minute thanks to a goal by freshman Caitlin Kelly. Not to be outdone, another freshman, Katie Thompson, scored one of her own in the 29th minute for a 2-0 WCU lead, and that would close out the scoring for the half. The Golden Rams held a 12-1 shot advantage at the break, and a 5-0 advantage in penalty corners.
In the second half, the usual suspects for West Chester opened up the scoring before some folks may have even returned to their seats after halftime. Kusakavitch scored one minute into the half, and Toppi added on another just a minute later for a 4-0 lead. The lone shot on goal in the game for the Crimson Hawks came in the 54th minute, and it resulted in a goal from Bryn Nelson to bring it to a 4-1 lead, but that’s as close as it would get for IUP. WCU again dominated the stat sheet in the second half, holding an 11-1 shot advantage, and a 5-1 advantage on penalty corners. The 4-1 victory punched their ticket to the PSAC semifinals for a date with Shippensburg University.
The Golden Rams traveled to East Stroudsburg, the host of the PSAC Tournament, for a semifinal showdown with the Red Raiders of Shippensburg on Friday, Nov. 4. The quarterfinal matchup against IUP was a cakewalk for West Chester, and they knew this matchup would be the complete opposite. Emily Barnard put her team one step closer to the championship game in the 13th minute with a goal to give Ship a 1-0 lead. Cassie Rawa continued to be a thorn in the Golden Rams’ side as she was in the matchup earlier this season and gave the Red Raiders a 2-0 lead 12 minutes later. Nearly time was able to find the back of the net for the remainder of the half, and Shippensburg heading into the locker room sitting pretty with a 2-0 lead.
Just 35 minutes separated Shippensburg from the title game, and the Golden Rams knew they were in for an uphill battle in a 2-0 hole. As they were in the first half, the Shippensburg defense continued to stump the WCU offense for the entire half until Toppi finally brought the Rams to within one in the 64th minute with a rebound goal. West Chester desperately fought for the final five minutes, but was unable to tie things up, and ultimately fell to Shippensburg 2-1 in the PSAC semifinals. The Red Raiders sailed into the PSAC Championship game for a meeting with the Marauders, and the Golden Rams were sent home for the final time this season.
Before the loss to Shippensburg, the Golden Rams were riding a red-hot eight game winning streak and were playing the best they had all season. Shippensburg not only ended that winning streak, but also ended the season of the Golden Rams, and the playing career of five senior members of the field hockey team. Sarah Krause, Giuliana Antignani, Nikki Bennett, Paustian and Kuskavitch all most likely played their final game in a WCU uniform, barring an unlikely NCAA Tournament bid.
The holes left by the graduating seniors will be tough to fill, but Head Coach Amy Cohen always seems to find a way to do so. Former Golden Rams Kristina Scherrer seemed like she would be an impossible player to replace on the defensive end, and freshman Gulliksen came in this year and won PSAC Freshman of the Year as a defender.
Paustian, Kusakavtich and Krause will be the most important to replace, and also the toughest as the Golden Rams have lost their starting goalie, and two of their top four scorers. Thankfully for WCU, Toppi still has another year of eligibility left.
Toppi will continue to carry the offense as she has during all three of her years as a Golden Ram. In the midfield, Kaitlin Hatch will be looked upon to replace Paustian, and she proved this year that she’s more the suitable for the job. Hatch scored a career high six goals and 10 assists this season as a sophomore.
In the cage, either Katie Downing or Audree Bonavita will prepare to replace Krause, who started in every game this season and finishes with a career record of 38-14 as a starter.
West Chester would need to be in the top three of the region to qualify for the tournament, and with teams like East Stroudsburg, Shippensburg, and Millersville all likely ranked above them, it’s hard to see a situation in which they receive a bid. The Golden Rams finish the season with a record of 13-7.
Dylan Harrison is a fifth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at DH785892@wcupa.edu.