Field hockey earns first NCAA tournament win

Class. Character. Success.

The three tenets of the W&J field hockey program established by head coach Jomara Coghlan have proven to be a successful formula.

Since Coghlan arrived at W&J in 2007, the team has never had a losing season. The program has won at a 68 percent clip (155-73) over the last 12 years and has been building momentum towards accomplishments like those of the 2018 season.

The 2011 Presidents claimed the school’s first-ever Empire 8 Conference Championship. In 2017, W&J swept the regular-season and conference tournament titles, but suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime setback at Centre (Ky.) in the NCAA first round.

Those moments helped set the stage for 2018. The Presidents had four returning seniors (Alana Boyd ’19, Rachel Buyan ’19, Gabby Karr ’19, and Claire Shaak ’19) who were ready and prepared to lead the group of 20 women.

“I’m most proud of the amazing young women that are a part of this program,” said Coghlan, a four-time E8 Coach of the Year. “They embrace our culture of ‘class, character, and success’ and hold themselves to a higher standard. Every one of them has played a role in creating a successful program and leaving a legacy… from my first team in 2007 until today.”

From the onset, it was evident this was a team determined to make its own legacy. W&J started the season with 14 consecutive victories, eight of which the final margin of victory was one goal. The team prided itself on a stifling defense and solid goaltending from Rena Israel ’21.

“Our team chemistry and commitment to getting better each day led us to having our successful season,” said Shaak. “Everything we accomplished we did as a team.”

In October, the Presidents cracked the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Top 25 poll for the first time in school history, reaching as high as No. 15 nationally before the season ended. On Oct. 17, W&J received its first-ever No. 1 regional ranking after outscoring opponents by a 30-3 margin at that point. The regular-season culminated with a 7-0 rout of Elmira at Cameron Stadium. Boyd scored three goals in a game for the first time in her career, while Shaak added a career-high, three-assist day.

W&J earned hosting rights for the Empire 8 Tournament and the low-scoring tight games continued. Hartwick knocked a pass into its own net in the semifinals as W&J recorded a 1-0 triumph in overtime. The defense allowed only one shot on goal. The following day, the Presidents celebrated their second-straight conference title and trip to the NCAA Tournament. Once again, the W&J defense stepped up to the challenge, limiting St. John Fisher without a shot on goal.

Two days after celebrating their win, the NCAA bracket was released and the Presidents were rewarded with a playoff game in Washington, Pa., for the first time in school history. W&J faced Southern Athletic Association champion Rhodes (Tenn.) Nov. 7 at Cameron Stadium and cruised to its first-ever NCAA field hockey victory, a 3-0 triumph.

“When we won the Empire 8 Conference my junior year in 2017, I remember wishing I was a senior, never thinking the team could top that,” said Buyan. “I was so happy to be wrong. We worked so hard to get to that point; I couldn’t have imagined a better season for my senior year. We have truly made history.”

The school-record 18th victory of the season catapulted W&J field hockey into the NCAA Sweet 16. The Presidents traveled to Maryland to take on national power and sixth-ranked Salisbury. The W&J defense once again proved strong as neither team could find the net in regulation. Seven of Israel’s eight saves came during the scoreless regulation and the teams headed to overtime. NCAA field hockey narrows the on-field players to seven in overtime and after a yellow card was issued, the Presidents played a woman down. A deflected shot got past Israel ending the most memorable season in W&J history in heartbreaking fashion.

“Every single person on the roster played a role in our achievement,” said Couglan. “I think our NCAA Tournament success most certainly sends a message that we expect more from ourselves, each other, and anyone looking to be a part of our program.”

Buyan was selected as a Second Team All-American by Longstreth/NFHCA and Synapse Sports, while Israel was honored by Synapse Sports as a Third Team All-American. The duo joins Jennifer Marbella ’13 as the only field hockey players in school history to receive All-America laurels.

Buyan was also chosen as the Empire 8 Conference Player of the Year. Boyd and Israel were First Team All-Empire 8 honorees, while Karr and Shaak were second-team picks. Reghan Dunn ’21 also earned a spot on the Empire 8 Sportswoman of the Year Team.

The defensive theme to the season received an exclamation point after the NCAA championship tournament concluded as the Presidents were recognized as Division III statistical team champions in goals against average (0.30), save percentage (.903) and shutouts per game (0.75). Israel was the national leader in goals-against average (0.28) and save percentage (.909).

“It is amazing to me that I could be a part of something so much bigger than me,” said Karr. “We not only made field hockey program history, but we were able to advance W&J women’s athletic program.”

The 2018 seniors etched their names into the W&J record books. Buyan finished second in career goals (49) and third in career points (117). Boyd’s 23 career goals tied for 10th in program history. However, the senior class will always be remembered for elevating the program to new heights with 57 victories and two Empire 8 Championships.

“Coach always said we need to play W&J field hockey,” said Buyan. “This means we play a hard, respected and classy game. She didn’t just impact our skills on the field, she impacted our character and attitudes off the field.”