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St. Joseph’s beats VCU in Atlantic 10 tournament title game, now headed to NCAAs

The Hawks successfully defended their Atlantic 10 title at home.

Saint Joseph's players celebrate with the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship Trophy – Nov. 3, 2018
Saint Joseph's players celebrate with the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship Trophy – Nov. 3, 2018Read moreJOHN SMALLWOOD / Staff

It's the most stressful type of game to win – playing with a one-goal lead with more than a half of a game still to play.

Making it stand up basically comes down to the tests of will, discipline and desire that all athletics talk about being the keys to just about everything.

That's where the St. Joseph's University field hockey found itself on Saturday at Ellen Ryan Field.

The Hawks had taken the lead against Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game on a goal by senior back Joely Helder just before the 29-minute mark of the first half.

For the 41-plus minutes remaining, St. Joe's applied pressure and created scoring opportunities only to be repelled by some outstanding saves from VCU goaltender Sasha Elliott.

Of course, the Hawks were frustrated. They are a high-scoring team that had been held to one goal just once all season.

Still, the reality was St. Joe's had all it needed to win the tournament for the second consecutive year and earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Championships.

It all came down to a test of character. The Hawks passed with flying colors.

St. Joe's likes to score, but it is also a complete team – one that had surrendered more than a goal just four times in 19 previous games and had posted nine shutouts on the season.

The 10th shutout – a 1-0 victory over VCU – took two more things off the preseason to-do list for the Hawks, who are ranked No. 10 nationally in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll.

St. Joe's (18-2) will find out its seeding and opponent when the brackets for the 18-team NCAA Championships are announced at 10 p.m. on Sunday.

"I love the word composure," said St. Joe's coach Lynn Farquhar. "We knew we would be tested.

"It gave me a heart attack. We're an attacking team. It was testing on your patience but we just stuck with it. The finals of any tournament is going to be tough. I'm just proud of the players for sticking through it."

A win like that is certainly a complete team effort, but junior goalkeeper Victoria Kammerike, who was named most outstanding player of the tournament, made several crucial saves for the Hawks.

For Helder, a second A-10 title was a validation of her decision to come to St. Joe's, which had been struggling, and answer Farquhar's challenge to help build something special.

Helder, Anna Willocks,  and Monica Tice are the three of a nine-member freshman class in 2015, that stayed for the Hawks magical, mystical tour.

"This was absolutely awesome," Helder said, "to able to win this home in front of family and friends.

"[The three seniors] kind of knew what we were getting into and we pushed on through it. When we came in as freshmen St. Joe's was ranked in the 50s, maybe 60s. Now, to be in the Top 10 and still be able to play on, that is awesome.