Sophomore defender Rebecca Russo (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor) has spent the entire season helping to anchor the defense for The University of Scranton women's soccer team. When her chance came on the offensive end in Saturday's Landmark Conference championship, she made sure to not miss it.
Russo's header in the third minute sparked the Royals to their second straight Landmark Conference title with a 2-0 victory over Susquehanna on a picture-perfect fall afternoon at Fitzpatrick Field. It's the program's sixth Landmark crown in the conference's 11 years and its 28th conference title overall.
The victory also secures an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the Royals, their sixth in the past eight years and 17th overall.
Russo was named Landmark Conference championship MVP after her game-winning goal, which was just her second of the season. The Royals earned a quick corner kick and junior midfielder Taylor Stevens (Yardley, Pa./Villa Joseph Marie) sent the kick across the front of the goal, where Russo headed it squarely inside the left post for a quick lead.
It was just the second goal of the season for Russo, who has been a key part of a defensive unit that has posted 13 shutouts and allowed just 0.68 goals per game, including a dominant performance in Saturday's championship victory. She teamed with her fellow back line mates – seniors Hannah DeMars (Cranford, N.J./Cranford) and Katie Cullen (Malverne, N.Y./Sacred Heart Academy), and freshman Shae Guilfoyle (West Nyack, N.Y./Pearl River) – to allow just six shots and only two on goal. Junior goalkeeper Colleen Berry (Ridgewood, N.J./Ridgewood) saved both of those for her 12th shutout of the season, which is tied for sixth-most in program history.
Stevens picked up her eighth assist of the season and 22nd of her career, tied for ninth-most in team history.
Scranton (14-3-2) got the insurance goal in the 29th minute when junior forward Jamie Hreniuk (West Caldwell, N.J./James Caldwell) knocked a shot into the left corner after junior midfielder Brittany Uricchio (Glastonbury, Conn./Glastonbury) headed the ball across goal to set up the play. The goal was Hreniuk's 12th of the season and 25th of her career. Uricchio earned her fourth assist of the season and eighth of her career.
The win was eerily reminiscent of last season's 2-0 win over Moravian in the Landmark championship game at Fitzpatrick Field. In that victory, DeMars put Scranton ahead with a header on a Stevens' corner kick in the fifth minute and Hreniuk provided the insurance goal in the ninth minute.
On Saturday, Scranton held a commanding 15-6 edge in shots and 3-0 in corner kicks over Susquehanna (14-4-2) while defeating the River Hawks for the second time this season. The Royals rolled to a 3-0 victory in the regular season match up on Oct. 7 at Fitzpatrick Field.
Scranton has now won five Landmark Conference championships in 10 seasons under head coach Colleen Pivirotto, who was a member of four Freedom Conference championship teams from 2000 to 2003 during her time as a defensive midfielder at Scranton. In 14 total seasons as a Royal, Pivirotto has won nine conference championships.
The Royals will find out their opponent and location for an NCAA Tournament first-round game when the field is announced on Monday at 1 p.m.