Rowan Field Hockey wins NJAC Championship after tight defensive battle with TCNJ

Julia Patrone examines the field with possession of the ball. Patrone scored the game winning penalty stroke against TCNJ for the NJAC Championship. Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. - Multimedia Editor / Lee Kotzen

The Rowan field hockey team was the clear favorite all season to take home the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship, and on Saturday, Nov. 5, the Profs did just that.

The No. 2 seed The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) didn’t make it easy in the highly competitive matchup, but in the end, it was the No. 1 seed Profs who came out on top 1-0 after a Julia Patrone penalty stroke.

“It feels good, it feels like a great accomplishment,” Head Coach Michelle Andre said. “I know we were expected to do it, but expecting to do it and actually doing it, it’s hard and it’s two different things and we did a really good job.”

From the jump, it was obvious the Lions came into this game with a chip on their shoulder. Earlier in the season, Rowan shut out their conference rivals 5-0, but this time around they were riding the high of an overtime victory over Kean in the semifinals, and the Profs felt that.

“I mean this was a very physical game, I don’t think we were really ready for that because we haven’t been marked like that and guarded like that,” Patrone said. “It was so physical like my body’s abused right now.”

Throughout the entire first half, the Lions’ defense was all over the Profs. Despite the fact they had more corners (9-5) and shots on goal (4-0), TCNJ was there to shut down any chance Rowan had of scoring. 

“They wound up playing us man-to-man the whole game, which they didn’t do the last game, so it became a big one-on-one game. We had some nice transitions in the space, we had some good looks on corners, but their goalie was really good tonight,” Coach Andre said. “It was tough, it was a physical game, high intensity, classic Rowan-TCNJ game.”

While the offense struggled for the Profs, the defense picked up the slack to ensure that the Lions weren’t able to get on the board first. Rowan contained TCNJ to five shots for the entirety of the matchup, only one of them being on goal. 

“I think we played more offense defensive-wise. So instead of hanging back, we were making sure we were in front of our girl,” senior back Melissa Donaldson said. “The first half we were a little quiet on defense but the second half we picked up the communication, really knowing where our mark was and stepping up to ball and that’s what made the difference.”

TCNJ also made their game-deciding mistake in the second half. With less than seven minutes left in the third, the Lions fouled Rowan’s Vanessa DiDonato within the shooting circle, giving Rowan a chance at a penalty stroke. 

Coach Andre called upon the team’s leading scorer Patrone in an attempt to break the scoreless tie, something the sophomore wasn’t expecting.

“We all take different strokes and I always go high with it,” Patrone said. “I had no idea I was taking this one so I was shocked… Rice [Kristiina Castagnola] told me and Michelle [Coach Andre] told me.”

For Coach Andre, it was simple why she went with the second-year player over someone like graduate student Kristiina Castagnola.

“There has been a lot of film on Castagnola already,” Coach Andre said. “Nobody’s seen Jule [Patrone], so we went with her.”

The decision paid off, as Patrone’s game-winning stroke went high left past TCNJ’s goalie Dani Britton and into the back of the cage. That one stroke kept Rowan’s NJAC record perfect and captured the team’s second NJAC Championship in a row.

“It’s so exciting,” Patrone said. “Last year, my freshman year, we won as well, but I think this year just feels so much better so it’s really exciting.”

The Profs have now secured an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. If they can make another run like they did last year, they will be able to compete for a national title on their home turf since Rowan is hosting this year’s final four.

“Heading into NCAAs, our thought is win out,” Donaldson said. “That’s all we have to do is stay together and win out.”

The bracket for the NCAA Division III Field Hockey National Championship tournament was announced on Sunday, Nov. 6. Rowan received a first-round bye and will be hosting the next two rounds for their side of the bracket this weekend, with the Profs facing the winners of the Christopher Newport vs. Cabrini matchup on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m.

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