By Grant Playter | Staff Writer
The Centre College Colonels and MIT Engineers field hockey teams duked it out in Lions Stadium, fighting for the right to battle it’s owners in today’s game shortly after the Lions earned their own ticket. Ultimately, the Colonels emerged victorious, besting the Engineers by a score of 2-1.
The emotions on the field were overwhelming as the benched Colonels rushed to meet their teammates. Colonel midfielder Natascha Loeb, who scored the first and only goal of the first half, could vividly remember the emotions of the team at the time.
“[It was] complete amazement,” Loeb said. “Like our coach cried on the sidelines, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her cry before. It was just the happiest feeling ever, I feel warm on the inside. Even in the cold, I felt warm.”
Confirming what her player said with a laugh, Colonels head coach Janelle Anthony echoed the sentiment of her player’s statement.
“Yes, it was very, very emotional,” said Anthony. “It’s just incredible, but I think it’s a true testament to how hard we’ve worked. Our journey started in August and we said that we were gonna take this season one week at a time… we just wanted to win every week and it just kept adding up, and adding up, and adding up, and we put all the pieces together and it was just a true, full team effort.”
For the Colonels, this win was momentous. Not only did it secure their continued place in the tournament, but as forward Hayley Barker would reveal, it secured this team a place in their record books.
“Making it to elite eight was a goal in itself because that’s history for our school,” said Barker. “This is the first time we’ve ever made it so this is a huge deal for us.”
Not to be lost in the big picture were the details of the actual game. Loeb scored the first goal in an up-tempo, shot heavy first half, which would then be followed by Barker in the second. The Engineers managed to make it a one-point game in the second half after a goal from midfielder Katie Notarangelo, but there wasn’t enough time for them to try and make the comeback.
“It was just really thrilling,” said Barker. “I haven’t been shooting the ball very much because I suffered a knee injury earlier in the season, so it was really awesome for me to get that shot off and it just kind of trickled through the goalies’ pads and I couldn’t have been happier.”
When asked about the details of her knee injury, Barker was blunt.
“I tore my ACL,” she said.
As stunning as it sounds, the game-deciding goal was scored by a player with a completely torn ACL. Playing on a torn ACL is one of the most difficult things a player can do in any sport, the pain of the injury and potential for further damage to the cartilage in the knee scaring most players off of the field. Anthony talked in great detail how Barker got to the point where she could accomplish such a feat.
“She actually tore her ACL back in the beginning of October,” said Anthony. “After one week, she had the full range of motion, could do a full squat, and didn’t need to use crutches, and she’s a senior. So we spoke with her parents and her doctor at home, and they said that if she felt up to it, she could wear a stabilizing brace and get in and play.”
“Since then,” said Anthony, a ghost of a smile on her face. “I believe she’s accumulated 7-to-8 goals and she’s been playing in every game since the beginning of October with a fully torn ACL.”
As amazing as that is, Anthony didn’t reserve her praise for just Barker. It’s easy to point to Barker as a great story of success among the team, but Anthony wanted to stress how the team operated as a unit throughout the game.
“I have to give a shoutout to my entire team, especially Hayley, she’s the true definition of resilience and resilience is one of the words we use in one of the pillars of our program,” said Anthony. “I think the whole team really embraced her after it happened and it gave us added motivation that you can’t give up any opportunity that you have to play. You have to live every moment and play every moment as if it’s your last, because it could be.”
Stories like this show that the Colonels’ resilience is not to be doubted, but will resilience be enough to defeat the Lions? Their head coach Sharon Pfluger, has 20 combined field hockey and lacrosse championships over 33 years, and Anthony is rightfully wary of her.
“I’m from Pennsylvania and I played against TCNJ in college, I also coached against them when I was a GA, I know they’re a great program,” said Anthony. “Sharon Pfluger is a legend within the field hockey and lacrosse community, when I’ve read books on Championship culture, her paragraphs are all over it. So I really admire her, I look up to her.”
The players are similarly wary of the Lions. Barker had a lot to say about her opponents heading into today’s game, set to kick off at 1 PM in Lions Stadium, noting the difference in ranking between the two teams.
“We know they’re a very tough team, we know they’re obviously higher ranked than us, but at this point, I think rankings are kind of out of the play,” said Barker. “It’s just whoever wants I more, and if we came out [today] wanting it more anything can happen.”
Loeb was similarly fired up, offering up what she thought they would need to do to try and beat this Goliath in Lion form.
“We’re gonna need the same fire that we had [on Saturday],” said Loeb. “I think that if we come out with nothing to lose and play our hearts out, we have a fighting chance.”
This quarter-final match-up is set up to be an intense battle of will and skill, and the talk of dedication and resilience rings true with their performance on the field. The Colonels will be a tough opponent for the Lions, scrappy and fighting to the bitter end, and the final words of their coach support this belief.
“TCNJ is a phenomenal opponent,” said Anthony. “And I just can’t wait to come out and show them who we are. And that, you know, we may be in the South, but we’re a very fierce and aggressive team.”