MERION STATION, Pa. – The last time the Saint Joseph’s field hockey program won a conference title, the members of the current squad’s senior class were less than a year old.

The rest of the team hadn’t even been born yet.

After 20 seasons without a first-place finish, the Hawks find themselves back atop the Atlantic 10, as freshman midfielder Pepa Serrano’s overtime winner edged Saint Joseph’s past Massachusetts, 3-2, at Ellen Ryan Field on Friday afternoon, clinching the league’s regular season title and the top seed in the Atlantic 10 Field Hockey Championship, set to begin in two weeks in Richmond, Virginia.

“It’s incredibly exciting and really rewarding [to win the regular season championship],” head coach Lynn Farquhar said.  “The players have been putting in so much hard work, and they’re starting to see that it’s worth it.”

In front of a capacity crowd at Ellen Ryan Field, Saint Joseph’s (12-5 overall, 7-0 Atlantic 10) struck first to take an early lead as senior forward Kerri Turk netted her first of two goals on the day just over six minutes into the game.  On the Hawks’ first penalty corner of the afternoon, sophomore forward Anna Willocks found Turk at the side of the cage; the senior slotted home her eighth goal of the season to put SJU on top, 1-0.

Massachusetts (9-7 overall, 4-2 Atlantic 10) leveled the game seven minutes later as Sarah Hawkshaw turned and fired a blast from the top of the circle to tie the game at a goal apiece.

The Minutewomen dominated the run of play for much of the remainder of the half, breaking through for a go-ahead goal by Hannah Farrell on a penalty corner at the 13:47 mark.

Freshman goalkeeper Victoria Kammerinke would go on to make three of her six first-half saves over the next seven minutes to keep the Hawks within striking distance.  Turk made it pay off on a corner with just 65 seconds left in the half, tucking home the rebound after UMass’ Emily Hazard made a strong save on a Willocks blast.

SJU had an opportunity to go ahead before the break, as the Hawks took three penalty corners with no time on the clock, but Hazard was able to fight off a shot from freshman Kathrin Bentz to keep the affair knotted at two.

Less than four minutes into the second half, Willocks had a chance to give the Hawks the lead, but her effort went wide.  Izzie Delario nearly put the visitors back on top minutes later as her shot was deflected up into the air and over Kammerinke by the stick of a defender; fortunately for the Crimson and Gray, the ball trickled wide of the cage and the game remained deadlocked.

With 14:35 to go, Delario was whistled for a yellow card, the game’s only penalty, which gave the Hawks the advantage for the next five minutes.  Willocks and Serrano both had opportunities to cash in, but neither was able to find the frame.

As the tension mounted late in the half, UMass earned a pair of penalty corners but could not convert a potential game-winner, as Delario had a shot blocked and a blast from Melanie Kreusch sailed just wide with five minutes to play in regulation.

Hawkshaw nearly won the game for the Minutewomen after a minute and a half of extra time, but Kammerinke made a big save to keep things tied.  From then on, the Hawks used their speed and passing to maintain possession and earn three corner opportunities.  Hazard denied sophomore back Joely Helder on the first corner before stopping an effort from Serrano on the second.

The third time was the charm for Saint Joseph’s, as senior midfielder Emily Nonnemacher inserted to Serrano, who stopped the ball for Willocks before breaking to the right.  Willocks sent the ball right back to Serrano, who beat Hazard low to cap off a scintillating contest between the league’s first- and second-place sides.

“We knew the tempo of the game was going to be tough; UMass played a great game,” Farquhar said.  “They are a tough opponent, and we knew that coming in, so we knew we just had to stick to our style of hockey.  We’re young, and we made a couple of variations, so the tempo did go up and down a little bit, but at the end of the day it comes down to whether or not we can get back to our style of hockey, and I give credit to our players group because I think we did that.”

Kammerinke and Hazard were outstanding in the cages, both finishing with seven saves on the day.  UMass held an 18-16 advantage in shots, but the Hawks were able to hold the Minutewomen to just three attempts in the final 23-plus minutes of play.  SJU earned eight corners to seven for UMass; they would prove critical as all three Hawk goals came as the result of corner opportunities.

“Our players have been working for years, and along with the groups that came before, have been paving the way; to see results starting to come their way is inspiring,” Farquhar said.  “It’s awesome to see the smiles, and they’re finding that it’s worth it.  The pride that they have for each other is going to continue to grow, and hopefully we can keep moving forward.”

Saint Joseph’s will play its final non-conference game of the season on Sunday afternoon as the Hawks host Hofstra at noon on Senior Day.  Prior to the game, the Hawks will honor their departing seniors – Nonnemacher, Turk, Melanie Colozzi, Amelia Deibler, and Katja Hansen – for their dedication to the program over the past four years.

A program they’ve helped lead to a championship.