|Hannah DeMars||Jamie Hreniuk|
For nearly an entire year, The University of Scranton women's soccer team has had one thing on its mind: win the 2016 Landmark Conference championship. On Saturday, the Royals completed that quest and left little doubt in the process.
Scranton scored twice in the opening nine minute and then put on a defensive clinic to defeat Moravian, 2-0, in the championship match at Fitzpatrick Field. The Landmark Conference title is the team's fifth in the conference's 10-year history and is the program's 21st conference championship overall. The victory earns the Royals an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament, which begins next week.
Junior midfielder Hannah DeMars (Cranford, N.J./Cranford) was named championship MVP after her header in the fifth minute gave Scranton a 1-0 lead. Sophomore midfielder Erica Licari (Saint James, N.Y./Smithtown East) earned a corner kick when she outworked a defender in the right corner. Fellow sophomore midfielder Taylor Stevens (Yardley, Pa./Villa Joseph Marie) sent the corner kick in low about five yards in front of the goal, where DeMars deftly snuck around a defender to get her head on the ball, and it found the back of the net on a bounce.
Less than four minutes later, the Royals doubled their lead when Licari again outfought a defender along the end line to head the ball back in front of the left post. Her pass when directly to sophomore forward Jamie Hreniuk (West Caldwell, N.J./James Caldwell), who volleyed it home for a 2-0 lead just 8:21 into the match.
Scranton (17-1-1) controlled possession for the rest of the first half, but was unable to add to the lead. The Royals held a 5-1 edge in shots and 4-0 in corner kicks in the opening 45 minutes. Moravian's one shot in the first half came on a free kick just above the box, but the shot sailed well high.
Play evened out a bit in the second half with Moravian generating two good chances in the middle of the half, but the Scranton defense held its ground and did allow a single shot on goal the entire match. The backline of seniors Erin Casey (Hatfield, Pa./Gwynedd Mercy Academy) and Carolyn Warner (Morris Plains, N.J./Parsippany Hills), junior Katie Cullen (Malverne, N.Y./Sacred Heart Academy) and freshman Becca Russo (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor) combined to stymie the Greyhounds, who had scored four goals in a semifinal victory just four days earlier.
DeMars' goal was her eighth of the season while Hreniuk scored her second of the postseason and team-leading 13th on the year, the most by a Royal since 2003. Stevens collected her team-leading 10th assist while Licari earned her fifth.
The win erased demons of reaching the title game in each of the past three seasons, but being denied. After last season's loss in the championship, the team set its sights on this year's crown, adopting the motto "title chasing," which the Royals repeated before and after every victory this season.
On Saturday, they completed the chase.
The victory was the 15th straight for the Royals, their longest winning streak since they won 17 straight in 2003. It was Scranton's 14th shutout of the season, tied for fourth in a single season in program history. Senior goalkeeper Krissy Welsh (Swarthmore, Pa./Strath Haven) picked up her ninth shutout of the season and 25th of her career, which ties her for third on the Royals' all-time list.
The 17 victories are tied for third-most in a single season in program history and is the most for the Royals since the 2003 season when they won 23. They will be making their 16th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the first since 2013. The Royals will find out their opponent and location for the first round when the tournament field is announced Monday at 1:30 p.m.