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Sandy Miller and East Stroudsburg field hockey are no strangers to the big stage.
In their seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance, East Stroudsburg captured its second national NCAA Division II title in program history in 2022 with a 1-0 win over Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) rival Shippensburg. The Warriors ended their season in Renton, Washington finishing with a 20-2 record.
In a tight defensive battle knotted up at 0-0 through almost 60 minutes, senior midfielder Nicole Krozser redirected the game-winning goal with 36 seconds remaining. The pass came from sophomore midfielder Jady van Gils, who gave them the late lead.
“It’s the ultimate goal you set,” Miller said. “We set probably 25 goals and we make sure to keep ‘to win’ the national championship as the last one because you can’t obtain a goal like that without a lot of other goals and expectations reached first.”
The Warriors have an historically competitive relationship with their finalist opponent. Shippensburg downed them earlier last season 1-0. The two met in the National Semifinal in 2021 and the National Championship in 2018, where Shippensburg edged East Stroudsburg out of championship status both times.
“(Shippensburg head coach) Tara Zollinger does a really good job with their program,” Miller said. “They lost 12 seniors due to graduation last year. How they came back and how strong they were losing so many seniors was just amazing to me.”
Morgan Mesenbrink, a graduate student, remembers the feeling from the 2018 loss in Pittsburgh, Pa. and acknowledged how much has changed since that loss.
“We said at the beginning of the day, do it for 2018,” Mesenbrink said in a press conference after the 1-0 victory. “None of these girls have really been here, I mean some of them have some sisters and friends who have been on the team since then. It was really just Sandy, Kayla, and I that were there, and it was horrible. Today is just everything and more that I could’ve asked for to end my career.”
In their quest for the national title, 21 different players recorded at least one point throughout the season. Krozser was one of three who scored 10 goals on the championship squad.
“Our depth is really important to our success,” Miller said. “We’re not a program that is going to play just 11 or 15 players. We’re playing 19-20, sometimes 21 players a game. So, when we lose a couple of players due to graduation, we have a lot of letter winners back and we have a lot of experience coming back.”
Along with their offensive production – they ranked second in PSAC with 70 goals – their defense played a huge role in their championship run. The Warriors only allowed nine goals throughout the entire season. Junior goalkeeper Amy Supey anchored the backfield as she led the conference with 0.40 goals against average and an .873 save percentage.
“I really think she was the best goalie in the PSAC and NCAA Division II, probably better than a lot of Division I goalkeepers,” Miller said. “You know how if you’re playing with a goalie that’s not as good sometimes, you have a tendency to play a little defensively. Our defensive was very, very strong, no need to play defensive.”
The Warriors have depth with their goalies but Miller stressed how much confidence they have with Supey. Miler described her as a “phenomenal leader and communicator” and said ESU is “fortunate” to have her returning for another year.
The ebbs and flows of a national championship can be challenging that cause a range of emotions throughout the finale. Miller said she prepared herself and her staff for those moments.
“We tried to set them up with a really good schedule,” Miller said. “The PSAC obviously gives us that and then spring hockey and things. So, they’re challenged that way and it’s not like the first time we’re playing in a championship game. We’re doing a lot of competitive drills with time, some situational things, so hopefully that gets us prepared for that stuff.”
Miller challenges her squad in the preseason with some Division I matchups and likes to test her players under pressure. Along with their structured practices, Miller’s philosophy helps them for the big moments.
“We have the philosophy that we have 33 players on the team, so we have 33 coaches out there,” Miller said. “So, after drills and scrimmages, at times, Katie, Elena and I will talk to the players. Other times, we’ll say, talk as a team. They’re really the coaches out there and they figure things out. That input is really important to our success.”
In the final National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll, East Stroudsburg finished 2022 with the No. 1 ranking, followed by Kutztown, Shippensburg, West Chester, and Millersville rounding out the top five. This is just the third time since 1998 that two PSAC squads have faced off in the title game.
“The PSAC Conference is just unbelievable,” Miller said. “It’s like every day we’re playing in some kind of national championship or playoff kind of experience. This year more than ever I thought that the PSAC was strong. Any given day, anyone could beat someone by a goal or in overtime. I’ve coached at ESU many years, but I’ve never seen the strength of the PSAC be as strong as it was this year, especially by those five teams.”
Despite achieving the ultimate goal of winning the national championship, Miller acknowledges there is pressure for next season to be as successful. But she said she embraces the challenge. The university’s first NCAA title win was in 2015.
“Next season is always a tough season after you win a national championship and only graduate three,” Miller said. “I’m looking forward to being competitive, to work hard, to being a family, to setting goals, hopefully accomplishing them, and getting better. That’s what we want to do is to get better. But I really love what I do. I have a great assistant coach Katie Ward, so we work hard together, and the university supports us as well. I’m just looking forward to the challenge and seeing how our incoming freshman do, how strong our upperclassmen come back, and the changes they make to their game.”
Photo: provided by East Stroudsburg University
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