Field Hockey Beats No. 1 Rutgers in Shootout, Progress to First Final Four in Program History

It felt like the game was never going to end. With the score tied 2-2 at the end of double overtime play, the No. 9 Lady Flames faced the No.1 Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a shootout.  

The Lady Flames prevailed with a 3-2 victory, and for the first time in history, the Lady Flames women’s field hockey team is heading to the Final Four.

“I am not going to lie. I am pretty excited about this one because I thought the performance from top to bottom was outstanding,” Head Coach Nikki Parsley-Blocker said following the game. “That was the best team we played this year defensively, so to be able to put three goals away against a team like that is pretty awesome.”

The Lady Flames did not take long to get the scoring started. Midway through the first period, a Liberty corner opportunity was originally blocked, but it was midfielder sophomore Lexi Hosler waiting in front of the net to put it home on the rebound to give the Lady Flames a 1-0 lead. The go-ahead goal was Hosler’s second goal of the season and the last for the Lady Flames until halftime. 

Rutgers came out strong in the third period, scoring two quick goals in a matter of minutes. The first goal came off a penalty, allowing Mil Redlingshoefer of the Scarlet Knights to tie the game 1-1. Three minutes later, the Scarlet Knights got another goal complements of Gianna Mancini. All of a sudden, the Lady Flames found themselves down a goal barely seven minutes into the second half. 

With both defensive units playing strong, it became a matter of whether Liberty was going to be able to get another goal before the game’s end. Teams traded possession back and forth with even a few corners for each team to no avail. There was 3:14 left on the clock when senior forward Jill Bolton took a swing from the top of the circle, which was deflected high and into the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2. The Lady Flames and the Scarlet Knights were sent to overtime.

Overtime felt like an afternoon at the library — quiet. Defenses remained strong in the two overtime periods as both teams did everything possible to possess the ball. The Lady Flames held their breath on a second overtime period corner that was just whiffed on by a Scarlet Knight, handing the Lady Flames an opportunity to win the game via a shootout, which felt like the only possible answer to the drawn-out game. 

The shootout could not have gone more the Lady Flames’ way as they never found themselves trailing. Pressure from the Lady Flames’ goalie Azul Irigoyen Iritxity kept a Scarlet Knight shot out of the net to give the Lady Flames a chance to win with a made penalty shot. Senior forward Charlotte Vaanhold did just that with a spin fake on the goalie to just guide the ball straight to the bottom right corner of the net to give the Lady Flames the win against the top-ranked team in the country. 

“I was the last person, so I saw what the goalie was doing,” Vaanhold said. “So, I thought, ‘I am just going to run as fast as I can and put it past the goalie,’ and I just cannot believe it.” 

 Junior Bethany Dykema has eight goals and nine assists despite playing in a defensive position. Photo by Ben Solomon.

Vaanhold went on to warn that the team’s work is not over yet.

“I knew we could go far, and our story is not done yet,” Vaanhold said.

If you have noticed field hockey’s social media posts this year, it always ends with #OpenHands. Parsley-Blocker elaborated on what it means. 

“Open Hands was born out of last year not making the NCAA tournament and trusting that the Lord has a plan even when it doesn’t look like ours,” Parsley-Blocker said. “We give our 100% but trust that his will be done.”

From last year’s crushing defeat to ODU in the Big East semifinals to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, Liberty field hockey has shown it has what it takes to go the distance.

Parsley-Blocker spoke about how the team is keeping ready for the big game.

“One of our biggest goals is to try to keep things as consistent as possible,” Parsley-Blocker said. “You spend all season preparing for this moment so our week — you know we gave the girls off today — even though you don’t have to once you get to NCAA postseason. At this point, we’re fine tuning really what we’re doing. We’re going to make some tactical adjustments to take care of Maryland on Friday, but at the end of the day, that’s why we’ve done all this hard work, to put ourselves in this position.”

Liberty takes on Maryland in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Nov. 19 at 12 p.m. in the semifinals. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

Zehnder is a sports reporter. Follow him on Twitter.

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