Women’s Lacrosse: Champions Again

Chris Wraight

Chris Wraight

By HEATHER BOEHM

The women’s lacrosse team earned another piece of hardware last weekend when they became the Nescac champions for the ninth time. Despite cruising past Trinity and Bowdoin in the regular season without breaking a sweat, the two rivals came out with nothing to lose and gave the Panthers a run for their money. But the Panthers fared well under pressure and toppled their rivals. Middlebury skated past Trinity 16–13 on Saturday, May 5, in the semifinals, followed by a championship win over Bowdoin on Sunday, May 6.

Last year in the conference tournament, the Panthers did not fare as well, falling to Colby in the second round. During this year’s regular season, Middlebury fans watched as the Mules once again took the women down in a regular-season matchup, 14–12. The women were prepared to avenge that loss in a game with higher stakes, but they didn’t have to worry about the pesky Mules because they were knocked out by Amherst in the quarterfinal to end a down season for Colby. 

Although the Panthers had beaten Trinity handily 14–8 in the regular season, anything can happen in a conference tournament. The heightened pressure of qualifying for NCAA’s invigorates an underdog and creates a lack of security. On top of that, they were the top seed.

“There definitely is a lot of pressure being the No. 1 seed in the tournament as well as hosting,” Zecca said. “After losing in the semis last year and watching two other teams compete for the championship on our own field, we knew there was nothing stopping us from getting there this year. No. 6 Trinity upset No. 3 Tufts in the quarterfinals, so we knew that they [were capable of pulling off an upset].”

The Panthers were reminded of this lesson this weekend when they had a tight matchup with the Bantams, once again coming from behind in the second half to win 16–13.

The Panthers had some trouble getting off to a strong start throughout the season but seemed to overcome this weakness in the conference playoffs. The hosts punched first, swatting three goals past the Bantam goalie within two minutes of play when Hollis Perticone ’18 scored her 29th goal of the season. She was quickly followed by Erin Nicholas ’21, as well as Emma McDonagh ’19, who would go on to score three more goals. 

The hosts needed to be more than a second-half team because they couldn’t afford to put so much pressure on themselves in the final stanza given the high postseason stakes. The Bantams were able to sneak two more goals by Julia Keith ’20 to narrow the margin until Casey O’Neill ’19 found the back of the cage. With a score of 4–2, Trinity continued to climb back, adding one more tally to their total at the 21-minute mark.

With about 20 minutes left to go in the period, the visitors would go on to outscore the hosts 5–3, claiming the 8–7 advantage as the teams headed into halftime.

Middlebury was not concerned with this one-goal deficit, as they had dug themselves out of much deeper holes earlier in the season. They were a second-half team and would prove it today, with their home crowd behind them.

The Panthers did not win the race to the scoreboard this time. The Bantams found openings in the Middlebury defense and capitalized on their quick breaks. After the visitors continued to increase their total to a 10–7 lead, Emily Barnard ’20 found Georgia Carroll ’18 to bring it back to a two-goal game. The visitors continued to preserve their edge, climbing to 12 goals. Sara DiCenso ’19 and Jenna McNicholas ’19 hammered two shots past the Bantam goalie in between the two visitor goals.

After feeling the sting of another Bantam goal, something clicked for the Panthers. Middlebury picked up four goals within the next six minutes of play. Kate Zecca ’20 was the first of the four, exploiting a perfectly executed pass from Carroll. The Panthers were now confident at a 14–12 lead and could not let their margin be ripped from their hands. In the final 10 minutes, the hosts allowed only one Trinity ball to enter their cage, while nailing two more shots past the Trinity goalie.

Once again, Keith and Kate Furber ’19 split time between the poles, with Keith making three integral saves in the first half and Furber making one in the final stanza to bring the Panthers to victory.

It was all smiles on Kohn Field when the last whistle blew to finalize the score of 16–13. They were on to the final and were ready for a fight.

“Overall, our team felt really confident about facing Bowdoin again in the championship,” Zecca said. “Though we played them earlier in the year, it was in the very beginning of the season. We knew they had been able to develop and better their play since we last saw them, so we knew that this game couldn’t be taken lightly.”

On Sunday, the Panthers had nothing left to lose and planned on leaving everything on the field. They took the field with confidence, knowing they had defeated Bowdoin by 10 goals earlier in the season. From time to time, this confidence did waver, as the women remained neck and neck throughout the game.

The first half kept fans at the edge of their seats, as both teams had a response for each goal scored. Bowdoin tallied the first goal as Allison Williams snuck a shot in after the first five minutes. Hannah Hirchfield’s goal was then sandwiched in between two Middlebury goals, one from McDonagh and one from Grace Getman ’21. Bowdoin increased their lead by two in the next five minutes. With under ten minutes to go, Kirsten Murphy ’21 showed up once again to toss a goal in the hosts’ direction. Carroll contributed her share, following the freshman, just before the Polar Bears were able to knock one more back. Then, McDonagh knotted the score 5-5 to finish out the period.

Once again, the pressure fell on the Polar Bears with the sound of the second-half whistle. Middlebury was now infamous for its second-half runs. But the visitors were the first to earn a goal. Three minutes later, we heard from McNicholas, who kept her team in the game. This momentum was followed by Perticone and Zecca, making the score 8–5. The Polar Bears were willing to leave it all on the field as they fought back to a tie game. With a little more than five minutes to go, the Panthers found their lungs to preserve their one-goal lead. McDonagh and Carroll were able to slap back two more shots to secure the trophy for Middlebury.

The Panthers’ defense once again played a major role in their victory. The seniors led the stats, knowing this would be their final conference tournament. Evie Keating ’18 grabbed three ground balls and forced two turnovers, while Perticone helped her out with seven draw controls and another two turnovers. Susana Baker ’19 contributed her share with three turnovers and three ground balls.

Keith and Furber showed up where they needed to. In the first period, Keith prevented three balls from netting the cage. In her second-half appearance, Furber made a tremendous effort with eight stops.

The fourth-ranked Panthers will host their regional this weekend. They will play the winner of Babson and Castleton on Sunday, May 13, and are preparing by focusing on the fine points of their game, according to Zecca.

“In both the [conference] semifinal and championship, we have had to come back from three- to four-goal deficits,” said Zecca. “Although we have come out on top in those close games, it would be undoubtedly better for us to come out strong and prove that we are playing to win for a full 60 minutes.

“We are confident that we have what it takes to make it all the way to the Final Four,” Zecca added. “We just need to play the way we know we can.”

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Women’s Lacrosse: Champions Again