Liberty field hockey falls short in Big East title game, look ahead to NCAA tournament

Liberty field hockey traveled to Philadelphia to begin the Big East Championship tournament on Friday, Nov. 2. The Flames entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed and faced the No. 4 seed – Villanova University for their first game. 

An early corner in the first quarter gave the Flames hopes for a quick lead, however, the first quarter ended as a scoreless one. Putting up a defensive front, Liberty prevented Villanova from breaking into the Flame’s defensive circle for the majority of the quarter. 

Liberty rapidly breached Villanova’s circle within the first four minutes of the second quarter. Graduate defender Jodie Conolly took a direct shot that found the left side backboard, allowing Liberty to score its first goal of the game. 

With a breakaway straight toward the goal, Liberty earned itself another opportunity on a corner. Conolly took another direct shot that was deflected into the goal by graduate forward Milly Arteta. The Flames raised their hands in celebration, as the score increased to 2-0 just before the half. 

Coming out of halftime, both teams continued to put up a hard fight to control the game. Villanova found an opportunity to earn itself a penalty stroke early in the half, which resulted in its first goal of the game. 

Liberty, searching for a response, continued to keep its defensive front and block Villanova from continuing its stride. In the final minutes of the third quarter, junior midfielder Martu Cian made a breakaway to the baseline and crossed a ball to teammate Arteta, who propelled Liberty to a 3-1 lead.

Even with more pressure from Villanova in the fourth quarter, the team kept its composure. The Wildcats managed to score on a corner, closing in on the Flames’ lead, but Liberty protected its goal and held its ground until the clock hit zero, taking win number one of the tournament.  

This victory allowed the Flames to advance to the Big East Championship Game on Sunday, Nov. 5, where they squared up with their Commonwealth foe, Old Dominion University. The teams battled for the conference title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. 

Liberty’s defensive efforts were evident early, as the Flames managed to prevent Old Dominion from scoring on two corner opportunities within the first seven minutes of the game. ODU earned another corner in the last two minutes of the quarter, which the Flames blocked again. Neither team was able to score during the first quarter.

At a 0-0 stalemate going into the second, Liberty worked to create offensive opportunities. The Flames finally found a spark with a corner opportunity, where graduate defender Bethany Dykema fought for the rebound on the goalie’s pads and found the backboard. The Flames took this 1-0 lead, but ODU did not back down. The Monarchs earned a corner and scored, tying up the game. 

Once again, the score remained even coming out of halftime. Five minutes into the third, ODU claimed its first offensive opportunity with a corner. The Monarchs fired a direct shot which earned them a goal and a 2-1 lead over the Flames. 

Old Dominion capitalized on another offensive opportunity in the fourth, earning a goal and advancing to a 3-1 lead over the Flames. 

With 8:06 remaining, Liberty made a bold move by substituting its goalie, senior Azul Iritxity Irigoyen, for 11 field players. This allowed them to have extra players up in the circle, which resulted in multiple scoring opportunities. The Monarchs earned two penalty corners during this time, but Liberty deterred both of the scoring attempts. Liberty continued to use its additional player to make offensive pushes that kept Flames fans on the edge of their seat. 

After eight minutes of relentless efforts, however, Liberty was unable to add to the scoreboard and claim the title of Big East Champions.  

Liberty fell to Old Dominion with a final score of 3-1. While the Monarchs were the ones to claim their spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Flames found their way into the tournament after the NCAA Selection Show and will face off against the Syracuse Orange in game one on Nov. 10 on the campus of Duke University in Durham. 

Garman is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *