Women’s Lacrosse Clinches Seventh National Championship Title

Team Caps Record-Breaking Season with Championship Win

BENJY RENTON
The women’s lacrosse team celebrates after narrowly defeating Tufts 10-9 in the NESCAC Championship. The team has now captured its seventh national title in program history.

Ashland, Virginia — While the 90-degree weather proved to be hot, the Panthers were even hotter, as the third-ranked Middlebury women’s lacrosse team defeated the seventh-ranked Salisbury Sea Gulls 14-9 in the NCAA Division III championship. This is the team’s seventh national championship title in program history and first since 2016, having previously capture the title in 2004, 2002, 2001, 1999 and 1997. After defeating Wesleyan 16-8 the previous day in the semifinals, the Panthers’ winning streak of 22 games is the longest in the nation and is tied with their 2016 record for the most wins in a single season.

Middlebury reached the semifinal against Wesleyan with their opponents having knocked off 2018 national champions Gettysburg in a surprise 10-7 upset. Emma McDonagh ’19 led the game’s scorers, with five goals. Jane Earley ’22, Henley Hall ’19 and Jenna McNicholas ’19 scored two goals each. Julia Keith ’20 spent all 60 minutes in goal with 5 saves to add to her already impressive record of 98 saves so far and a 6.39 goals-against average.

The team’s appearance in the Final Four was the third time in the last four years and the 25th time since 1994. Last year, the Panthers’ run for a national title was cut short with a narrow 11-9 defeat against Gettysburg. This was Wesleyan’s first appearance in the Final Four, having knocked out previous national champion Gettysburg 10-7. Middlebury entered the Final Four with 300 goals and having previously defeated Wesleyan 11-6 in the regular season over spring break.

Seventh-ranked Salisbury reached the NCAA tournament through an at-large bid and a record of 15-2 in the regular season, losing only to Middlebury and Washington and Lee. The team defeated Tufts 14-11 in the second semifinal of the day.

Middlebury showed their dominance right from the beginning, with Casey O’Neill ’19 winning the first draw control and passing the ball to Erin Nicholas ’21 (a previous national championship winner this past fall in field hockey). The first two goals were scored by two-time NESCAC Player of the Week Earley and Gracie Getman ’21, both off free position shots. McDonagh, Hall and Nicholas contributed to the team’s success in the first half, with Salisbury tallying another two goals. The Panthers were at an 8-4 lead in the first half with Keith having deflected five shots.

Salisbury picked up their scoring in the beginning of the second half, having put in three goals in an eight-minute span after Earley scored first less than a minute in the period. Halting their streak, McDonagh scored her second goal of the game, bringing the score to 10-7. Kirsten Murphy ’21, McDonagh and Hall scored another four goals combined, while the Sea Gulls’ Courtney Fegan score her second goal of the game. With just over three minutes left in the second half, both teams retired indoors for a 90-minute lightning delay with Middlebury on a six-goal lead. In the final three minutes, Salisbury’s Emma Skoglund scored her second goal of the game, but Middlebury held possession in the final minute as the Panthers won the title game 14-9 to a cheering set of fans and parents on the sidelines.

Head Coach Kate Livesay ’03, named NESCAC Co-Coach of the Year with Tufts’ Courtney Shute, achieved her second win as head coach, with her team having previously won the national title during Livesay’s first season coaching. Additionally, Livesay coached the 2012 Trinity team to a NCAA Division III championship during her time there and won championship titles in 2001 and 2002 as a student-athlete under legendary coach Missy Foote. She earned her 200th career win earlier this spring with a victory over Bates in the NESCAC Quarterfinals and was named NESCAC Coach of the Year four times at fellow NESCAC school Trinity.

In a press conference following the game, Livesay praised the team’s first goal scored by Earley. “Today’s game was a battle,” she said. “I do think we came in really composed, started out the game strong, took an early lead which really set us at ease.”

Keith spent all 60 minutes in goal with nine saves to add to her current total of 107. “I think that all those saves are credited to the entire defense,” she said. “It’s just awesome to be part of a defense that you can completely trust.”

Rising star Earley, the team’s second-highest goal scorer with 51 goals on the season, said that winning a national championship was a dream come true. “Our seniors this year were so welcoming and led us by example,” she commented. “I want to do it again.”

McDonagh and her fellow senior teammates were among the 2016 national championship squad. “I’m just so happy that this team gets to experience it,” she said. “Everyone on this team is so impactful.”

Former captain Georgia Carroll ’18 commented on the team’s incredible season. “After our loss to Gettysburg last year, watching Middlebury win the national championship feels like the closure of a year-long wound,”  she said. “I feel so proud to be part of the Middlebury lacrosse family — today and every day.”

At the end of the championship game, McDonagh was recognized as the tournament’s most outstanding player, while captain Sara DiCenso ’19, Keith and Earley earned spots on the all-tournament team.

The Panthers finished their season with a 22-1 overall record and a total of 330 goals, a new program record. 85 days prior to the national championship victory, the team experienced their only loss of the season, falling to Bates 11-10 in double overtime. Since then, the team has won all their games across tough NESCAC conference competition and some nationally-ranked teams over spring break. This record-breaking season included the most goals in a single season in program history.

This year, Livesay was assisted by Katie Ritter for her second season and Amy Patton for her first season. “All of the classes bring something special,” Livesay said. “It just felt like a lot of things came full circle today.” In her eyes, Coach Patton “invigorated us and gave us a new confidence in ourselves and in hard moments.” With her coaching staff, Livesay felt that her players were poised to walk away with the national championship trophy. “There are ups and downs but this is a really resilient crew that I just knew I could count on showing up and giving their best.”

This story will continue to be updated.

Emma McDonagh ’19, Coach Kate Livesay, Jane Earley ’22 and Julia Keith ’20 participate in a press conference following the championship win.