Most universities are lucky enough to receive four years of stellar play from their super-star athletes and while The Rock was not as lucky, senior women’s lacrosse goaltender Emily Bitka was still able to pack four years of exemplary play and leadership into two years. Bitka, originally from Amherst, N.Y., spent two years vying for the starting goaltender job with Division I powerhouse University of Albany. After transferring to The Rock after her junior year, Bitka has been a steady presence in the net for two very talented teams. This past season, Bitka helped the Green and White to an all-time best record for a second consecutive season.
“The success of our team,” Bitka said when asked about this season’s defining moment. “Last year we had record wins and this year we broke our record again. That was definitely a big thing we worked towards.”
While some players chase statistics and put an emphasis on reaching new career highs in individual statistics, Bitka was completely dedicated to team success. That is not to say she was not one of the most valuable players in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), because she was. In the PSAC, Bitka has arguably the strongest case for All-Conference.
“I think my style of play is definitely something that’s different, that I’ve noticed in the PSAC. I’m a very active goalie, the way I play is not traditional. I had 104 ground balls, I made a lot of interceptions.”
The senior from Amherst played 1005:28 minutes this year, which was good for third in the PSAC, and achieved a goals against average (GAA) of 8.65. Bitka led the PSAC in save percentage at .554 and totaled the second most saves in the PSAC with 180. Bitka also placed third in the PSAC with an average of 10 saves per game. Along with dominance in traditional goaltender statistics, Bitka set an NCAA record with 104 ground-balls. “I wanted to get 75 ground-balls, I broke that and got a 104. I got an NCAA record,” Bitka said. “When you’re playing and you’re out there, you don’t really think about your individual stats, but now that my career is over, I can look back and I’ve broken a lot of records here.”
Majoring in Physical Activity and Fitness Management, Bitka has utilized her major in order to play in each of the 36 games over the past two seasons. In only two years, she practically rewrote The Rock record books. In 36 career games at The Rock, Bitka allowed 265 goals on 718 shots to leave her GAA at a sparkling 7.95. With 307 saves over the past two seasons, her save percentage sits at .537 while her 25-11 record will stand among the all-time greats forever. The two highest single-season save percentages belong to Bitka while she also owns the two highest single-season win totals along with the two highest single-season ground-ball totals. In the history of Slippery Rock University, Bitka sits second in all-time wins and sixth in all-time saves. To accomplish these feats in only two years is simply remarkable.
“I loved my time in Albany, I think my time in Albany made me a better player and I got two years of Division I experience. But to transfer to a Division II school and have the opportunity to play and have a role immediately definitely helped. I would have loved four years here, but I loved my time in Albany,” Bitka said, not regretting only playing two years here with the Green and White, but ponderous of what could have been.
A disappointing end to the season with a loss to no. 22 Lock Haven University put a bit of a damper on an otherwise successful season, but Bitka embraces the many positives The Rock achieved together this season. “It was successful. We definitely had highs and lows like any team, but we fell short of our overall goal. We wanted to win PSACs, we wanted to play in the NCAA tournament. We did fall short in that regard, but we also hit a lot of personal and team goals this year. We fell short of our overall goals, but hit a lot of highs this year,” Bitka said.
The conclusion of a highly successful collegiate career does not necessitate the end of Bitka’s lacrosse career. “I’m going to the UK this summer to play for two weeks, and then I’m actually going to coach here in the fall, do my internship, then in the spring, I’m going to coach for the semester. So that’s something I’m really excited about,” Bitka said.
When asked about coaching in the future, Bitka, with a sly grin,, confirmed her desire to stay involved with the sport she has played since her youth. “I definitely want to be a college coach, that’s something I’m working towards. I’m going to work here next week and work toward a GA position and eventually a head coach position,” Bitka said.
Regardless of whether or not Bitka returns to The Rock one day in the future, her place among the all-time greats has been cemented. Maybe one day coach Bitka will be roaming the sidelines of Mihalik-Thompson stadium, continuing from where she left off in pursuit of a PSAC championship for Slippery Rock University.