MERION STATION, Pa. – Senior Joely Helder’s first-half goal provided all the offense as the 10th-ranked and top-seeded Saint Joseph’s field hockey team won the Atlantic 10 Championship with a 1-0 triumph over second-seeded VCU in front of an overflow crowd at Ellen Ryan Field on Saturday.
The win – SJU’s 14th in a row, extending a school record – gave the Hawks their second consecutive crown and the Atlantic 10’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite featuring the league’s two highest-scoring teams, the game was a defensive battle, with the Hawks converting on a penalty corner opportunity for the game’s only goal.
“We like to score. We’re an attacking team and we weren’t finishing, so it’s testing on your patience,” head coach Lynn Farquhar said. “We just stuck with it. The finals of any tournament, you want to stay in the moment. I think so often you can drift into the past of what happened, or the future or what you want to happen, so I’m really proud of the group for staying in it mentally. We wanted to stay in it and keep on our game plan. We knew we would be tested, but this players group did that and they came out with a win.”
In a half that saw just eight combined shots, Saint Joseph’s (18-2) earned its third corner of the game with just under seven minutes remaining. Junior Kathrin Bentz sent a ball toward the cage that Helder got a stick on, tipping it home to send the Hawks into the break with the lead.
“We had Kathrin step up and she sent a great ball down the line and I was able to get a tip on it,” Helder said.
VCU (12-7) had the best chance early in the second half, but junior Victoria Kammerinke came up with consecutive saves against Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year Emily McNamara to keep the Hawks in front.
The Hawks had the better of the possession battle and used it in the second half, not allowing a shot over the final 26-plus minutes of the game to see out the program’s third Atlantic 10 title (1995, 2017).
“Our defense did a great job, especially with the stretch that you see on the field and the really quick counterattacks,” Farquhar said. “I give a lot of credit to our midfield because they had a lot of possession time. VCU is talented and very skillful, and they have a lot of numbers in their midfield. Victoria is our Defensive Player of the Year in the conference, and you can see why.”
“It’s always easier for us when we have more than one goal, so the 1-0 score really keeps your focus,” Kammerinke said. “It’s great that we came up with the win, but it was really a big team effort today. [Holding the 1-0 lead] says a lot about us being resilient. That’s really one of our core character traits, just keeping that 1-0 lead and staying composed and playing our game.”
Kammerinke made three saves on the day for her 10th shutout of the season and the 19th of her career, a new Saint Joseph’s record. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Championship and was joined on the All-Championship team by Helder, freshman Tonya Botherway, and senior Anna Willocks.
The Hawks’ 18th win matches the program record for victories in a season set a year ago. Helder, Willocks, and senior Monica Tice set a record themselves on Saturday as well; the trio has now played in more games than anyone in program history as they took the field together for the 81st time.
Saturday’s title gives the Hawks back-to-back regular season and tournament championship sweeps; SJU is the first program to achieve that feat since Richmond notched five consecutive doubles from 2002 to 2006.
“Two titles in a row is just amazing and shows that everything is finally coming together,” Kammerinke said. “We’re playing great as a team and it’s so much fun. Our season’s not done yet, and it’s just cool to see all the pieces fall together in the end.”
A tournament victory on Hawk Hill was made even more poignant as it came just days after the passing of former SJU coach and administrator Ellen Ryan, in whose honor the Hawks’ facility was dedicated in 2011. The Hawks are also the first team since 2014 to win the league title on their home field, and the crowd certainly made its presence felt throughout the game.
“This is awesome, especially being home with all the fans, our parents, and friends,” Helder said. “It’s a great experience. We’ve had some great fans, and all the [other Hawk teams] really support us.”
“We had some decorations in the windows [of Villiger Hall, across the street from Ellen Ryan Field] again, we had fans go around the field, so we had a great crowd and we are thankful and grateful for that and the energy really helped us,” Farquhar said. “We had the University President, Dr. Reed, out here, and our athletic director, Jill [Bodensteiner], as well as so many of our associate athletic directors. There’s a ton of support and that’s really important for us and we’re going to continue to build off of it.”
Saint Joseph’s will learn its NCAA Tournament opponent and site assignment on Sunday night. The NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship Selection Show will air at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on NCAA.com.