The American University field hockey team captured its seventh
consecutive Patriot League Tournament Championship on Saturday with
a 2-0 win over Lafayette at Jacobs Field. Junior Christine
Fingerhuth scored the game-winning goal in the 35th
minute and sophomore Melissa
Casale added a second for good measure in the 43rd
minute. The Eagles will now play Northeast Conference Champion Lock
Haven on Tuesday, November 10, in the NCAA Play-In Game, with the
winner advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
American (11-8, 4-1) and Lafayette (13-6, 4-1) traded blows in the opening moments of the match but neither team was able to capitalize on the early opportunities. Savannah Graybill nearly put the Eagles on the board first with a shot off a penalty corner in the 14th minute, but Leopard's goaltender Kelsey Andersen was able to make the save. Moments later, it was American goaltender Alyssa Poorman coming up with the big play as she made a save of a Bridget Hilbig shot, preserving the 0-0 tie.
Fingerhuth, the 2009 Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, was finally able to break the scoring drought in the 35th minute as she converted her team-leading 12th goal of the year. American forced a Lafayette turnover just outside the circle to gain possession on the play before the ball was played to Graybill at the top left of the circle. The senior then slipped a pass through two defenders to Fingerhuth, who dribbled to her right and fired a one-timer to the far post for the game’s first score.
The Eagles nearly took a two-goal advantage right before the half off a penalty corner but Graybill’s shot from the left side of the circle hit the post, sending the teams into the intermission with American leading, 1-0. American held an 8-2 advantage in shots at the break and a 5-1 difference in corners.
American struck quickly to begin the second half as Casale tallied her 11th goal of the year in the 43rd minute. Graybill again assisted on the play as she received a long pass played into the circle from the left baseline and found Casale at the left post. The sophomore then used a reverse stick shot to beat Andersen nearside, giving American a 2-0 advantage.
It was the Eagles vaunted defense which sealed the victory down the stretch, as American turned away any and all Lafayette advances. Despite playing two stretches with a man-advantage and putting pressure on the American circle late, the Leopards managed just two shots in the half as the Eagles backline stood tall. Kirstin Gebhart and Anne-Meike de Wiljes made defensive saves on both Lafayette attempts, preserving the shutout and securing American’s seventh consecutive conference title.
"First, we want to congratulate Lafayette on a great season. They are an outstanding team and were a very difficult opponent to get past today,” Head Coach Steve Jennings remarked. “I am really proud of how our kids played, we surged whenever we really needed to step up for a critical defensive stop or to generate a dangerous attack. In the end, we got it done and it is an amazing feeling to see all of our hard work pay off. Now we have to prepare quickly for a matchup against a strong Lock Haven team.”
For her efforts over the weekend, de Wiljes was rewarded with Patriot League Tournament MVP honors. The 2-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year helped the Eagles to a 0.50 goals against average in the two games while allowing Lehigh and Lafayette a combined eight shots and six penalty corners.
Joining de Wiljes on the Patriot League All-Tournament Team were Graybill, Fingerhuth and freshman Kelsey Davis. Graybill recorded three assists on the weekend and tallied a helper on both game winners. Fingerhuth scored a goal in each game for a total of four points and Davis recorded just the third hat trick in Patriot League Tournament history in yesterday’s victory.
American will now face Lock Haven University on Tuesday, November 10, at 1 p.m. on Jacobs Field in the 2009 NCAA Tournament Play-In Game. Tickets to the game are priced at $5 for adults and $3 for youth and can be purchased the day of the game at the gate. The winner of Tuesday’s contest will earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament Round of 16, whose complete field will be announced Tuesday evening on NCAA.com.
Lock Haven earned a berth into the play-in game on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Monmouth in the Northeast Conference Tournament Championship. The Lady Eagles and American also met in last year’s play-in game, with American coming out on top, 2-0. De Wiljes, Fingerhuth and Graybill combined for 11 shots in the victory while Poorman recorded eight saves in goal.