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COLLEGE FIELD HOCKEY: Temple, Villanova Field Hockey Seasons End in Big East Semis, But the Future of Both Teams Remains Bright

By Morgan Killian-Moseley Photos: Zack Beavers & , 11/20/23, 12:45PM EST


Photos: Peter Hou & Zack Beavers

By: Morgan Killian-Moseley

PHILADELPHIA- The Temple Owls and Villanova Wildcats took to the field on Nov. 3 in the Big East field hockey tournament. Despite both being the lower seed against national powerhouses, Nova hoped to use pseudo-home field advantage to push themselves to a win; while Temple looked to pull off an upset on their actual home turf.

Unfortunately, the Liberty Flames and Old Dominion Monarchs proved that a Big East field hockey finals matchup between the two is like Thanos: inevitable.

Despite Nova leaving everything they had on Temple University’s Howarth Field, Liberty held off the Wildcats for a 3-2 win; while Old Dominion stifled virtually every offensive opportunity the Cherry and White could muster, ending the Owls’ season with a 2-0 shutout.

In the first semifinal, Liberty came out strong, dominating the time of possession battle early, not allowing Nova a shot in the first quarter. The Flames didn’t get too many opportunities on the offensive end after the first six minutes, however, and the first quarter finished 0-0.

Liberty graduate student Bethany Dykema #5 - PSD Photo by Peter Hou

Villanova senior captain Sabine de Ruijter #14 - PSD Photo by Peter Hou

Liberty would break through early in the second, however; as a well-placed penalty corner setup by All-Big East First Teamers Bethany Dykema and Reagan Underwood set up fellow honoree Jodie Conolly to drill home the first goal of the game; the tenth goal of the year for the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

Villanova wouldn’t get a shot of until just over five minutes remained in the half, when All-Big East Second Teamer Sabine de Ruijter was able to get one away following a penalty corner. But the Dutchwoman’s shot was blocked and the Flames quickly counter-rushed, earning a corner of their own. This time Conolly set up Milagros Arteta to give Liberty a 2-0 lead that they would take into the locker room.

The Cats would come out hot to start the second half, putting heavy pressure on All-Big East First Team keeper Azul Iritxity Irigoyen

So much so, in fact, that Nova was able to earn a penalty stroke. De Ruijter would bury it for her ninth goal of the season to cut the Liberty lead down to 2-1.

But Liberty would respond late in the third quarter, as All-Big East Second Teamer Martu Cian would get a breakaway chance that Wildcat keeper Maddi Sears was able to get a piece of on a dive, but the rebound went right to Arteta, and the Argentinian graduate transfer stuffed it into the wide-open net to give the Flames a two-goal cushion again.

In the fourth, Liberty continued to put the pressure on Sears, but couldn’t get anything else past her. Nova stepped it up on the forecheck, and earned back-to-back penalty corners; resulting in Big East Offensive Player of the Year Meghan Mitchell, an Academy of Notre Dame alum, deflecting a shot from Anne Drabbe home to make it 3-2. This was the 16th goal of the year for the senior.

Goal by Villanova senior Sabine de Ruijter #14 - PSD Video by Morgan Killian-Moseley

Goal by Villanova senior Meghan Mitchell #11 - PSD Video by Morgan Killian-Moseley

With just over six minutes remaining, veteran Villanova head coach Joanie Milhous decided to roll the dice and pull the keeper in order to ramp up the pressure even further. But Liberty head coach Nikki Parsley-Blocker and her staff, the Big East Coaching Staff of the Year, had the Flames well prepared. They were able to play keep away enough so that the Cats couldn’t get another shot off before time expired, ending the comeback hopes for Nova Nation.

Liberty outshot Villanova 16-7 but the shots on goal category was much closer as Liberty had only a 6-4 advantage. The Flames also earned more penalty corners; gaining seven to the Wildcats’ four. Both of Nova’s goals came off penalty corners, as a set piece led to the De Ruijter penalty stroke goal. Two of the Flames’ goals came off of set pieces as well.

Iritxity Irigoyen made two saves for the Flames, while Sears made three for the Cats.

"First of all, I want to give credit to Liberty," Milhous said after the game. "They are one of the best teams in the nation, without a doubt. They have a ton of talent, and I was super proud of our players because they competed for a full 60 minutes today."

"I think we played a really hard-fought game, and I was really proud of every single one of [my teammates]," Mitchell said. "I was proud of how we responded to {Liberty's scoring} and continued to fight throughout the game."

In the second semifinal, Old Dominion, like Liberty before them, dominated the ball control game early, and late in the first quarter Monarch sophomore forward Sacha De Gier would have a chance at opening the scoring. But Temple senior keeper Molly Frey would knock away the last-second shot from the All-Big East Second Teamer, and the first stanza ended with goose eggs on the board for both teams.

Temple keeper Molly Frey makes two huge saves for the Owls in the Big East semifinal vs. Old Dominion - PSD Video by Zack Beavers

ODU would continue to dominate the possession game, and with just over five minutes left in the half a penalty corner would lead to paydirt; as De Gier would cash in on an insertion by fellow Dutchwoman and All-Big East First Teamer Frederique Zandbergen for her 12th goal of the campaign to give the Monarchs the 1-0 lead. Graduate midfielder Danielle Husar also picked up an assist on the play.

The lead would hold going into the locker room, but early in the third quarter Old Dominion would add some insurance. 

Another penalty corner setup from Zandbergen would allow Anna Miller to capitalize. It was only the 2nd goal of the year for Miller, a graduate transfer from St. Joseph’s. Zandbergen and senior midfielder Rina Tsioles would pick up the assists.

Old Dominion is one of the top defensive teams in the nation, having shut out their opponents eight times during the regular season, including Temple back in September. So dominant was ODU in this game that the Owls weren’t even able to register a shot until the last thirty seconds of the third, as penalty corner setups from All-Big East First Teamer Tess Muller allowed Agustina Tucceri to get one on net and force All-Big East Second Teamer and Co-Freshman of the Year Suus Broers to make a stop. 

On the penalty corner immediately following that, All-Big East Second Teamer Alize Maes got one away that was blocked.

Temple did their best to pull out all the stops in the fourth quarter as Tucceri was able to get two more shots away, but one was off target and the other, on a power play after a green card to Monarch midfielder Emily Tammaro, Husar was able to get a stick on.

Unfortunately, the Cherry and White’s aggression on the offensive end backfired. 

Yellow cards on Kate Miller and Caitlin Amsden 17 seconds apart wiped out the power play, gave the Monarchs almost a nearly three-minute two-woman advantage and forced the Owls into penalty kill mode, and ODU was more than happy to continue the ball control game. And in the last minute of play, with the game well in hand and both teams having a woman in the box, Old Dominion did not stop attacking, getting a couple more shots off before the final horn. And though Amsden would get one last shot off, the Monarch back line made sure it didn’t get to Broers and preserved the shutout; sucking what little air remained out of the Temple supporters.

Despite the fact that Temple didn’t register a shot until the end of the third quarter, ODU only outshot the Owls 8-5, with five Old Dominion shots being on target compared to Temple’s two. Old Dominion dominated the penalty corner battle 7-2, with both Monarch goals coming on corner set pieces.

Broers only needed to make two saves for her ninth shutout of the year, while Frey made three stops in the losing effort for the Cherry and White.

Temple graduate captain McKenna Burkhardt #23 - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

This is the Owls' third consecutive defeat in the Big East semis and their second at the hands of the Monarchs after last year's eight-round shootout heartbreaker.

"I think ODU defended really well," said Temple head coach Michelle Vittese. "Their game plan was to throw numbers underneath the ball anytime we were on the fast break; all they were trying to do is disrupt it which is tough to play against. It doesn't allow you to get a good connection, it doesn't allow you to get great flow; and we struggled to even get opportunities. They defended really well and we just didn't match their level of intensity.

"To make it to a conference tournament is such a privilege, they've done it three years in a row. I think the hurdle is being able to put together a 60-minute performance when it matters most, we struggle with that sometimes. Against a [top-tier team] you can't take moments off, and we allow that to happen a little bit too much."

“Throughout the year, I think we would always keep our heads up high,” said Owls graduate backliner and captain McKenna Burkhardt after what would be her last game in Cherry and White. "We had a lot of difficult games this season and a lot of unfortunate losses, but we never let those losses bring us down. It fueled us into getting [through conference play and into the tournament]."

Old Dominion would go on to defeat Liberty 3-1 Sunday afternoon, avenging their regular season loss to the Flames and securing themselves a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Monarchs would eventually lose in the first round 3-0 to No. 4-seeded Maryland Terrapins. As for Liberty, their regular season record was more than enough to secure an at-large bid in the tournament. However, the Flames also fell in the first round to Syracuse 2-1.

For both Temple and Villanova, their seasons may have ended in disappointing fashion, but the ride to get there provided plenty of great memories.

2023 Villanova Field Hockey Team - PSD Photo by Peter Hou

Temple junior captain Devin Kinzel #7 & graduate midfielder Kate Miller #8 - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

"It was just a really fun team to be around every single day," Mitchell said of her Wildcat teammates. She went on to mention Nova's wins over Providence and UConn as two of her favorite moments of the season and how she wanted the team to build on those moments next season.

"We put ourselves in a pretty tricky situation against Nova and Quinnipiac, and I was super proud of our group to get it done in those situations," Vittese said of the Owls win-or-go-home stretch late in the regular season. "This game today doesn't tell the story of our season."

"[The game against] Quinnipiac was fun to play as much as it was stressful," Burkhardt noted. "I think that was one of the games that showed we can give it our all and finish strong. Usually when we get scored on in the last minute like that it's hard for us to come back, but winning the game in overtime was a good accomplishment for our team."

And the future provides plenty to look forward to.

"I think we've got a great future ahead of us," Milhous said. "I know we'll be back. The culture we have right now is the best it's been, we have girls that work their butts off and I'm really proud of them because they play with passion. They've shown a lot of growth, and they have accountability."

"I think the future for this program is extremely bright," Mitchell said of the Wildcats. "We showed that we can compete with the best teams in the country, and I think that's what our future is; being in these big games and winning them in the future."

"I think this team's really special," Burkhardt said of the Owls. "[Vittese] is really great at coaching this team. I know they're losing ten players [to graduation]; but the players they have and the players coming in, they'll be fine, they've just got to work hard for it and they'll be back here next season."

No matter what, Temple and Villanova will continue to test each other on the field for years to come.