It didn’t take long to get Shannon Syciarz on the field as a freshman goalkeeper for TCNJ’s field hockey team in 2008, but it sure took awhile to get her off it after she led the Lions to Division III National Championship glory.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Syciarz proclaims. “We’ve all heard the stories from alumna and the coaches about what it’s like to win it all and I’ve pictured the moment over and over, but no words can really do the feeling justice. To be able to win as a senior and finish my career with a win is incredible.”
After the 3-1 win over Middlebury College concluded on Nov. 20, Syciarz stayed on the field as long as she could enjoying every moment of the experience after discovering that she had been named the NCAA tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“Shannon was an absolute rock for us in goal all season, but in this tournament she was in a league of her own,” senior midfielder/forward Leigh Mitchell insists. “She got us through every tough situation and came up clutch in the most crucial moments. She proved herself to be one of the best goal keepers in the country and I'm so glad she got to see the benefits of her spectacular play.”
Syciarz was all over the field for the Lions making saves left and right. It didn’t matter where her opponents tried to slip one past, Syciarz was there.
In the Lions first game of the weekend, Syciarz made a season-high 16 saves in a 2-0 victory over Ursinus College to send her team into the finals. She followed that up with seven saves over Middlebury to give TCNJ’s field hockey team its 10th NCAA national title and first since 1999.
“It was absolutely awesome playing with Shannon this year,” first-year midfielder Lauren Pigott says. “She is truly a phenomenal goalkeeper and I had 100% faith in her. I was so happy she earned MVP for the tournament this year because she definitely deserved it.”
Syciarz had already been labeled the New Jersey Athletic Conference’s Goaltender of the Year in 2011 as well as being named to the Longstreth/National Field Hockey Coaches Association South Atlantic Region Team before championship weekend.
Her most prestigious individual honor came after helping her team win the National Championship though as Syciarz was named, along with senior defender Alex Okuniewicz, as a First-Team All-America selection.
Syciarz ranked in the top 5 nationally in save percentage and goal-against average, while finishing the season with a 24-2 record and 11 shutouts. After surrendering three goals in back-to-back games against Salisbury University and John Hopkins University, Syciarz did not give up a goal for six games, keeping her opponents out of the cage for nearly 400 minutes.
Yet Syciarz is quicker to note defensive saves made by Pigott, junior defenders Camille Passucci and Meredith Jeffries and senior defender Jessica Persicketti than she is to brag about the diving ones she made herself during championship weekend.
“Those are the plays that help us gain an offensive thrust and keep our opponents on their heels,” Syciarz explains. “Our entire team has been working as one defensive unit the whole season and it makes a huge difference when everyone on the team is hustling back to defend.”
It’s like a game of ping pong though when her teammates are asked who’s responsible for the Lions defensive success. Each one of them could go on for hours about what Syciarz has meant to the program ever since she made that first start against Millersville University on Aug. 30, 2008.
“I think it is truly important for a team to have complete confidence in their goalkeeper, and Shannon was a player we all definitely had complete confidence in,” Pigott confesses.
That confidence was been the main reason that Syciarz has been in the cage since 2008 and it’s what led her and the Lions on their way to the ideal ending.
“It’s rare that a season ends with a win,” Syciarz says, “So ending this season and my career with a win is the perfect way to go out.”
Photo Credit: TCNJ Athletics