Star goalkeeper Mary-Alice Zavocki recalls the moment Lehigh’s field hockey team won the Patriot League Championship in November 1994.
She remembers stopping the ball with her stick, looking up, and seeing her whole team charge at her to celebrate their victory.
The championship game was against Lehigh’s biggest rival and No. 1 seeded Lafayette and was held at the Leopards’ Metzgar Fields.
The match was tied and went into a penalty shootout that ended in a 2-1 victory for the then-known Lehigh Engineers. The contest marked the first time Lehigh’s field hockey team had ever beaten Lafayette in league competition, as well as the first and only title the field hockey team has won. The team ended the season with a 12-5-2 record.
“We had a great team,” Zavocki said, a fifth-year senior at the time. “We had great camaraderie and chemistry, and it was a super fun year. That league championship is by far, by far, my greatest Lehigh sports memory.”
Lafayette was always the team to beat — the team had won the last five regular season league titles and had only lost one other game in the previous five years of league play. During this match, the Leopards outshot Lehigh 34-6.
However, Zavocki was confident in her abilities as a goalkeeper. She blocked 27 shots during regulation and then turned away two out of the three penalty strokes in the tiebreaker.
Elizabeth Brode Harris, another then-senior, said Zavocki was the key to winning. Harris said Zavocki was a total force on the field, and the rest of the team was able to build off her energy to generate the win.
Harris said the team exhibited a lot of grit and will that day, and it was the hardest they had ever played.
Zavocki’s performance also won her recognition as league Defensive Player of the Year and the First-Team All-Patriot League goalie. She said it was an honor to be recognized as one of the better players in the league at the time and said it represented a culmination of her career.
Head coach Jackie Keeley was also named Patriot League Coach of the Year.
Zavocki and the rest of the team had come a long way from her freshman year, which made the honor and title even more surreal, she said. In 1990, the team finished with an overall record of 1-18-1.
Coming into the Patriot League Tournament, Lehigh was seeded No. 2. Despite being underdogs against Lafayette, the players never felt discouraged, Harris said.
“It was really enormously special,” Harris said. “One of the things I remember about that era of the ‘90s, of playing both field hockey and lacrosse, we actually relished being the underdog. It was not something that ever intimidated us — it kind of motivated us. I don’t think we had doubt that we could pull it out. I think we knew Lafayette was going to be a huge obstacle, but we didn’t even let our brains get there. We just kind of just took it the first game and then the second game.”
Keeley had selected Harris to take one of the final penalty shots. Although not the prettiest of strokes, Harris said she scored one of the points, and Krista Wisniewski scored the other.
Harris also had some words of encouragement for the current team, who had a 7-11 record this past season and was ranked sixth in the Patriot League standings.
“That female-centric team around a sport and representing your school is really a special moment in time,” Harris said. “Just sticking with the grit and the resilience and the desire to win, and coming out on top and being there for one another is so worth it in the end. Try your best to relish in those moments, and try to understand during it, as opposed to waiting until it’s over, how special it is.”
Harris and Zavocki have turned their love for sports and being on a team into careers. Zavocki coaches girls’ basketball, another sport she has a passion for. Harris runs a non-profit organization called “B Inspired,” which aims to bring wellness oriented opportunities, such as physical fitness activities and nutrition education, to the student community in the inner city of Philadelphia.
Current head coach Caitlin Dallmeyer said the team of ‘94 is one the current team talks about a lot and is a representation of what they aspire to be. She said the combination of skill, perseverance and good leadership is what made them such a successful team.
“I think there is an element of culture that comes into play and leadership that comes into play in order to win a title,” Dallmeyer said. “No matter how much talent you have on your team, if you don’t have those aspects, it’s really hard to pull out the final game and be able to sustain such a long season. The season can be really long, and it can be really tiring on your body, and if you don’t have good messaging from your leadership, it can be hard to mentally push through it.”
Dallmeyer said this year’s team exhibited some of that culture during their last match against Boston University. Similar to the championship game of 1994, the team had never beaten their opponent before and pulled off a 2-1 overtime victory.
The team hopes to bring home a second title for Lehigh this fall. Dallmeyer said this team has the most talent she has seen in her time at Lehigh.
She is especially confident they will have a successful season with rising seniors Lenke Havas and Drew Pecora, who hold the records for most assists and goals in the program, respectively, serving on the team’s Leadership Council.
Zavocki also had a few words for the spring athletes, having played lacrosse in addition to field hockey. She acknowledged the disappointments surrounding sports being canceled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. As a former athlete, she said current players should hang in there and remain hopeful.