Sarah Wilcox never got the opportunity to play for a championship at Old Town High School.
But now she is a national champion and she played an integral role in the accomplishment.
Sophomore Wilcox was the right back for the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s field hockey team that beat Shippensburg University (Pa.) 1-0 in the NCAA Division II championship game Saturday in Louisville, Ky.
She dove and swept the ball off the goal line with six minutes remaining to preserve the victory.
“It was centimeters away from going in and Sarah kept it out. It was an amazing save. That sums up what Sarah has done for us the whole year,” said UMass Lowell coach Shannon Hlebichuk. “Whether offensively or defensively, she’ll put herself in harm’s way to make sure we win.”
“I was just doing my job,” said Wilcox.
At halftime, Hlebichuk gave Wilcox the unenviable assignment of marking Shippensburg’s Kristina Taylor, the NCAA Division II Player of the Year. And she came through.
“I was really aggressive on her. I used my body. And she was a smaller player (5-foot-4),” said Wilcox, who added that she applied the techniques she learned from playing man-to-man defense during her basketball career at Old Town High.
The River Hawks allowed just eight goals in going 24-0.
Wilcox started all 24 games and had two goals and an assist.
Wilcox was a midfielder as a freshman but a herniated disk in her back sustained while working out last winter resulted in her being moved to right back, where she replaced first team All-American Laura Sullivan.
“Our freshman goalie (Melanie Hopkins) didn’t have to make a ton of saves (82) and a lot of it had to do with Sarah. She is a very good defender. She reads attacking players very well and shuts them down. She’s very disciplined,” said Hlebichuk. “She was great for us.”
Wilcox played on the post on defensive penalty corners.
“She would get balls drilled at her but she has no fear,” said Hlebichuk. “She has ‘intens’ on her license plate and that sums her up whether she’s on the field, in the weight room or in the classroom.”
Wilcox said there is a more pressure on defense than in the midfield “because you can’t afford to make a mistake. But I like the pressure. It helps me play better.”
The UMass Lowell coach installed her on the offensive penalty corner unit late in the year to capitalize on her aggressiveness and said “it was a great move for us. Our penalty corner scoring (percentage) in the tournament was over 50 percent.”
Wilcox said the team was very close-knit and the whole experience was “amazing.
“It was really exciting. Our seniors have worked really hard. This was their fourth national championship game (and first title). I know how badly they wanted it,” said Wilcox, who scored the game-winner in the 5-1 semifinal win over Stonehill (Mass.).
Wilcox’s season was even more remarkable when you consider that she played in pain throughout and would have occasional numbness in her leg due to the herniated disk.
She said she had two cortizone shots before the Final Four.
“It’s always going to be there but I’ve learned to deal with the pain,” said Wilcox, a nursing major. “It was worth everything I went through.”