On the surface, this success story is remarkably similar to the sports feature that ran in our 2014 winter issue. Just as they had done in 2013, the Shippensburg University field hockey team navigated a gamut of highs and lows during its 2016 season, ending with its highest honor—a national championship.
This win however, carried with it unparalleled emotions after tragedy marked the start of the season.
As darkness fell on a warm June night, stunning news rocked the SU field hockey community. The life of former player, coach, teammate, and friend, Amanda Strous, was cut short. On June 19, the SU community learned of her tragic death in North Carolina.
Strous played field hockey at Ship from 2007–10, totaling twenty-four goals and thirteen assists in seventy-nine career games. She was team captain her senior season, leading her squad to the NCAA Division II National Championship game, ending with a 1-0 loss to Massachusetts-Lowell.
She returned to SU during fall 2012 to pursue her master’s degree and joined the coaching staff. Strous stood alongside SU head coach Bertie Landes as the Raiders won the 2013 NCAA Division II National Championship.
News of her death left family, friends, former teammates, and players heartbroken. “I can still hear her laughter and her voice,” Landes said at the time. “Her memory will live in our hearts forever. May the lessons she taught us through her passion for life guide us in the days ahead.”
The team honored Strous during its annual alumni game in August, sharing memories of Strous during part of a moving ceremony. They donned purple T-shirts, her favorite color, displaying Strous’ number and the slogan “Fly High 22.” To further honor Strous, her No. 22 jersey traveled with the team to each game.
Although Strous was no longer on the sidelines, she maintained a presence with the team. Her jersey made its first appearance at Messiah College, where the team gutted out a 1-0 win in overtime. Messiah went on to win the NCAA Division III National Championship.
This was the beginning of a magical season. Just as they had done in 2013, the Raiders battled Millersville University for the 2016 PSAC Championship game. In both games, the Raiders faced defeat.
The 2016 Raiders then went on to battle East Stroudsburg in the NCAA Quarter finals. East Stroudsburg edged out over the Raiders twice during the regular season, but this time the Raiders would not be denied.
SU’s Cassie Rawa scored first in the quarterfinal game, giving the Raiders a 1–0 lead. Forward Katelyn Grazan, who led the Raiders offensively all season, added a goal in the second half. The Raiders held off a valiant charge by the Warriors and moved on to the NCAA Semifinals in Easton, Massachusetts.
Further reflecting their 2013 journey, the team faced Millersville in the NCAA Semifinals. In 2013, they won 3-1, advancing to the NCAA National Championship to battle LIU Post. Millersville proved a challenging opponent for the 2016 rematch as well.
But the Raiders were ready. After a predominantly scoreless affair, SU’s Brooke Sheibley sent a rocket through the circle, allowing Emily Barnard to score. The Raiders won 1–0 and advanced.
Once again, they faced LIU Post in the national championship game. In 2013, they captured the championship with a 2–1 win in overtime.
“We are a team of destiny,” Landes said at the press conference after the 2016 NCAA Semifinal game.
The team was one win away from celebrating its former coach and teammate with a national championship.
Going into the matchup with LIU Post, the Raiders knew it would be a tall order. LIU Post’s Emily Miller had been an offensive force all season, scoring twenty goals on the season prior to the title matchup.
The Raiders came out strong, and Barnard scored an early SU goal. The 2016 team was strong at protecting leads, but this would be hard to maintain.
The Raiders played offensively in the second half, as Grazan gave them a 2–0 lead with eight minutes left.
Those eight minutes would be the longest of the season. With Miller held in check all game, the Raiders struggled to contain the sophomore scoring sensation down the stretch. Miller pushed her way to the net to score bringing LIU Post within a goal, with four minutes left to play.
The Raiders fought off a furious LIU Post attack with a one-player advantage as LIU Post pulled its goalie. Miller then rocketed a shot—one that looked destined to tie the game and send it to overtime, but SU goalie Ally Mooney stood her ground.
Mooney dove to knock down the shot. As the clock finally hit zero, a celebration unlike any other took place.
Once again, the Raiders were national champions, doing so with striking similarity to the 2013 championship in which Strous played a vital role. The win cemented her legacy with the field hockey team and the impact she made on so many.
As the Raiders accepted the trophy, they huddled together, stretched Strous’ jersey over it, and held it to the sky, chanting, “Twenty-two!”
“The road that this team took was very tough,” Landes said. “With Strous’ death, the only way we could honor her was to live our lives. This senior class, and this team, just wanted to leave a legacy. A life lived every day, with love for each other, caring, concern, and a lot of laughter.”
With the win, one could picture Strous’ smile shining down on the team. The Raiders’ efforts—unwavering and brilliant—made it possible for 22 to fly higher than ever before.