Every sports season can be defined by certain words.
Sometimes however, there are instances when certain words and phrases become real. The 2010 UMass Lowell field hockey team brought life to the term champion. This season, their ‘one game at a time’ mantra turned into an undefeated and record-breaking campaign.
The top-ranked River Hawks captured the school’s second National Championship in Louisville, Kentucky in early December, defeating No.2 Shippensburg 1-0. A strong defensive effort and the outstanding work of a freshman goalkeeper completed their first ever undefeated season and finished the season with a school record of 24 wins. The championship road began on a hot August day.
Within the first five minutes of the first practice of the season, Head Coach Shannon Hlebichuk gathered her team together recognizing not just the talent but the chemistry and intangibles her girls possessed. Thus, she set the standard for the season, National Championship.
“I saw a ‘different’ determination in them during the off season and throughout the summer” she said. “The seniors were intent on going above and beyond what they had done the three previous years to ensure they would not only get to the championship game, but they would have what it takes to win it.”
The River Hawks had reached the NCAA Division II Final Four the previous three seasons, but this season had to be different. The script needed a different ending because this was a different team. They were hungry and they wanted it more; and with seven seniors who had tasted defeat, winning the final game was the only option that seemed to fit.
“We came together as a team instead of individuals,” said senior defender Jaime Hadley, “The feeling of defeat the previous 3 seasons made it that much easier to work.”
Hadley credits her teammates ability to push aside personal goals as a main contributor to the team success.
“We had a team outlook, we kept ourselves in check and we worked hard together, everybody working so hard made it better.”
“Basically all the stars aligned for us” said Hlebichuk, “We had great senior leadership, our team chemistry was on and we were starting a freshman goalkeeper who wanted nothing more than to never let her team down, this was the perfect storm for us.”
Hlebichuk, who earned conference coach of the year honors seven out of nine years at UMass Lowell, uses excellence to describe her program, which has reached the Final Four eight consecutive seasons, on the field, in the classroom and within the community.
This season, the River Hawks added another word as motivation: