The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Field hockey championship preview

Leopards to battle American for Patriot League title
The+field+hockey+team+celebrates+its+semifinal+win+against+Boston.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+GoLeopards%29
The field hockey team celebrates its semifinal win against Boston. (Photo courtesy of GoLeopards)

The field hockey team (12-6 overall, 5-1 Patriot League) is looking to capture its first Patriot League title since 2012, facing the formidable American University Eagles (10-7 overall, 6-0 Patriot League) in a championship matchup at the William I. Jacobs Recreational Complex in Washington. The game is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. 

Seeded No. 2 in the tournament, the Leopards clinched their spot in the final after a thrilling 3-2 semifinal victory over Boston University. Down 2-1 with 50 seconds remaining in the game, junior midfielder Lineke Spaans fought past multiple opposing defenders, setting up an equalizer scored by freshman midfielder Lea Good.Freshman defender Lena Thedrian made a name for herself to close out the game in overtime, scoring after a great pass from sophomore midfielder Josephine van Wijk. This was Thedrian’s first ever collegiate goal.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 seeded Eagles had a similarly difficult semifinal matchup. While initially cruising 3-0 against Bucknell, the Bison scored two goals in the fourth quarter. The Eagles narrowly prevailed in the end, winning 3-2. The Bison had a chance to score off of a penalty corner, but missed.

The Leopards and Eagles have faced off in the Patriot League Championship twice prior, in 2019 and 2021. The Eagles won both of the meetings, each by a one-goal difference.

Lafayette and American also battled earlier in the regular season, with American coming out on top with a 3-1 win on Sept. 24, Lafayette’s only in-conference loss this season.  

Since that meeting, the Leopards have gone on a hot streak on the pitch, winning eight consecutive matches and outscoring opponents 21-3. As a result, Lafayette edged into the top 30 of the NCAA field hockey rankings. Now ranked No. 29 in the latest rankings, American just edges out the Leopards at No. 25. 

Lafayette’s improvements have mainly come from the offensive side, with trio Spaans, Van Wijk and freshman forward Stella Malinowski constantly scoring a barrage of goals in big moments. Notably, Spaans’ 11 goals are the second most out of any player in the Patriot League. Meanwhile, Malinowski’s eight goals helped her win Patriot League Rookie of the Year.

Additionally, the Leopards have improved in late-game situations. In 2022, the team struggled to prevail in tight contests, with 10 of its 11 losses coming by a one-goal difference. This season, the Leopards have capitalized in big moments, scoring nine goals in the fourth quarter or overtime periods. 

Their tough loss to American in the regular season was an unfortunate exception. After leading 1-0 at the end of the first quarter, Lafayette’s offense struggled, and American roared back to begin what eventually became an undefeated season in the Patriot League. Both teams defended well in that game, preventing shots and creating a physical battle.

To reclaim the championship, the Leopards will have to work together to set up offensive patterns on the field, putting pressure on the Eagles. This will be tough against stellar defenders from the Eagles, especially with graduate student Charlene Boshoff. Boshoff was selected as the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, also winning Defensive Player of the Week after her performance against Lafayette in the regular season.

Defenders on Lafayette’s side such as junior India Ralph will also have to prevent the Eagles’ team chemistry from making offensive strides in the game. While primarily on the defense, Ralph does play at midfield, notably scoring an assist in the semifinal match. 

While the Eagles may be the favorite on paper with their higher ranking and home turf, the Leopards are arguably playing better than anyone else in the Patriot League. Yet, it will be difficult for the Leopards to put everything together in a mentally challenging situation, especially with American’s recent success against the Leopards. As a result, this matchup is about as 50-50 as a championship can get.

Fans can watch the game on ESPN+ on Saturday at 1 p.m. 

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About the Contributor
Andreas Pelekis, Assistant News Editor
Tennis addict.

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