Field hockey playoffs: Pace takes on Assumption in battle of heavyweights

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Amine Kassaoui

Finnerty X. Field, home of the Pace Field Hockey team.

Amine Kassaoui

The Pace University field hockey team has reached the Northeast-10 Conference Championship semifinals for the first time in program history, and in their way stands a very familiar foe: Assumption University.

In Monday’s quarterfinals, the Setters defeated defending conference champions Saint Anselm, 1-0, on the road. The win marked the first Pace victory in NE10 tournament history. Newly crowned conference Rookie of the Year Krista Dietz’ 20th goal of her freshman campaign was the deciding factor. Top-seeded Assumption defeated St. Thomas Aquinas, 2-1, at home.

Prior to Monday’s win, the Blue and Gold had previously played in two NE10 tournament matches, both in the quarterfinals, both at home, both against the Greyhounds, and both losses, in 2017 and 2018.

A third playoff battle now looms large on Thursday, Nov. 4, this time in the semifinals, with Assumption holding the home-field advantage.

The stakes could not be much higher as the winner will host the NE10 Conference Championship finals on Sunday, Nov. 7, against the winner of the New Haven-Adelphi semifinal.

History will be made this year, as all four semifinalists are in search of their first-ever Northeast-10 Conference Championship.

Pace’s record this season (14-5 overall, 10-4 in the conference) was good enough to earn the fifth seed in the tournament, but it belied the fact that four of the team’s five losses were decided by one goal, including two overtime blemishes.

The only time the Setters were soundly defeated in 60-minutes was on Sep. 25, at Assumption. The Greyhounds scored a goal in each of the first three quarters, en route to a 3-1 win. Pace’s only goal was scored with less than 30 seconds left in the game.

The Setters are currently riding a seven-game win streak heading into the second showdown with the Greyhounds.

The 2021 Pace field hockey season has been one marked by runs: two straight wins to start the season, followed by three straight losses (all by the narrowest of 1-0 margins), then five wins in seven games, and finally the current seven consecutive wins.

The only team in the NE10 with a longer win streak? Assumption, who have won 18 in a row.

The last time that Pace and Assumption squared off in the postseason was in the 2018 NE10 tournament quarterfinals.

At the time it was the Setters who came in with a flawless 13-0 conference record, and were vying for both a first NE10 championship and a perfect season. The Greyhounds spoiled the party with a 1-0 upset win at Finnerty Field.

This time, however, it is the Greyhounds who are an undefeated 14-0 in conference play (18-1 overall), and they are the ones trying to secure not only their first NE10 title, but a perfect season as well. In their path stand the Setters. Shakespeare could not have written a more poetic script.

Always a bridesmaid but never yet a bride, Assumption has advanced to six championship finals, but has yet to claim the prize.

Following the program’s best regular season in school history, Assumption was awarded NE10 Goalkeeper, Defensive Player, and Coach of the Year honors. The Greyhounds also boasted a league-best three First-Team honorees and five total All-Conference selections.

Senior goalkeeper Kylie Gargiulo was phenomenal in net on the season. In 19 games, she only allowed a conference-low 12 goals to be scored against her, on an absurd .857% saves percentage, also tops in the NE10.

Three Blue and Gold players received All-Conference honors this season.

Freshman phenom Krista Dietz was named the NE10 Rookie of the Year by the conference office on Monday. The true freshmen leads the entire conference with 20 goals scored, was a First-Team and All-Rookie Team selection.

Senior goalkeeper Grace Henderson, whose 1150½ minutes played leads the NE10, made the Second Team, as did freshman Noa Trabold, who has been a staunch defensive wall for the Setters. The Dutch-native has often left offensive players looking lugubrious trying to get past or around her in the backfield

The Pace field hockey program joined the Northeast-10 in 2015, and has faced Assumption 10 times in total, including the two Greyhound post-season wins. The Setters are 3-7 overall in those battles, but none have carried the weight of Thursday’s titanic clash.

Both teams are coming into this game on hot streaks. Assumption has won 18 straight, the Setters have won 7.

One big advantage for the Greyhounds is the fact that they have not left their Worcester campus in almost two weeks, so rest is on their side.

The Setters meanwhile are playing their third road game in less than a week. Pace traveled to New Hampshire to face Franklin Pierce on Saturday, traveled back there to take on Saint Anselm on Monday, and now head to Massachusetts for the Assumption game on Thursday.

Regardless of who comes out on top in the other semifinal contest between New Haven and Adelphi, the winner of Pace-Assumption will host the championship game on Sunday, as they are the two highest seeded teams remaining in the field.

On the line for both programs is a shot at immortality.

Assumption went undefeated in the NE10 this season and won the regular-season crown. But as Michael Jordan famously said after his 1996 Chicago Bulls team had just won the most regular-season games in NBA history, “it don’t mean a thing if we don’t win the ring.”

For Pace, it almost seems destined that they would have to go through the biggest thorn in their side, and exorcise past demons, to get to the promised land of an NE10 Conference Championship finals.

It will all be decided tomorrow.

Pace and Assumption square off at 7 P.M. on Thursday/