Albany Women Find Way to Win Again
from press release
Nikki Branchini leads Albany into the NCAA quarterfinals following a comeback win at Dartmouth in Sunday's first-round game.
HANOVER, N.H. -- Jodi Battaglia and Persy Sample keyed a second-half run in leading Albany to a 10-7 come-from-behind victory over Dartmouth in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday, May 15 at rain-soaked Scully-Fahey Field. The unbeaten Great Danes advanced to meet second-seeded Northwestern in the NCAA quarterfinals on May 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Dartmouth (11-5) erased a 5-4 deficit in the final period with consecutive goals. Hana Bowers curled from the left to the middle and sent a blast over the goalkeeper's head to tie the contest.
After Kristen Giovanniello made a save leading to an offensive possession, the Big Green went ahead as Sarah Parks found Hilary Smith in the middle of the zone with 17:03 remaining.â¨ Albany (18-0) regain the lead with three straight goals over a four-minute stretch.
Nikki Branchini, who moved up to offense from her defensive midfielder position, sent a free-position attempt into the right side of the cage to start the decisive run. Sample, a freshman attacker, curled from the left and fired a low shot into the far right corner.
Battaglia then made a full-extended catch of Sample's feed from behind to find the net and record an 8-6 advantage.â¨ The Great Danes, who entered NCAA play as the only undefeated team at the Division I level, padded their margin in the final minutes. Jess Antelmi forced a turnover that led to an offensive possession where Allie Phelan drove from the right from a spread attack to beat the goalie low to the left side. Taylor Frink added an empty-net goal for a 10-6 cushion after Dartmouth received a yellow card during a defensive double-team.
"We had some pre-game jitters, but then we stepped it up," said Battaglia, who recorded her 23rd career hat trick with three goals and set a school-record in that category. "We have always grown from adversity this season. Someone has stepped up at different times and in different ways."
Dartmouth raced to a 3-0 lead in the opening five-plus minutes. A pair of Great Dane turnovers led to the first two goals. Sarah Plumb set up Greta Meyer, who faked and scored from right of the crease. Meyer later finished off a transition play with a bounce shot after Parks gathered in another miscue. Kirsten Goldberg later drove around a defender from the right point and placed a shot to the left of the goalkeeper.
Albany regrouped by scoring four times in a span of 13 minutes and 11 seconds. A cutting Amanda Pollock deposited a Rachael Burek feed. Battaglia tallied back-to-back goals, the second when she sent a free-position shot inside the left post. Phelan, a freshman midfielder, put the America East Conference champions in front, 4-3, by driving from the right point and moving across the top of the crease.
"We had an early case of nerves," offered first-year Albany coach John Battaglino, whose team is ranked No. 8 in the IWLCA coaches' poll and No. 6 by deBeer/Inside Lacrosse. "But the theme of the year has been to find a way. This team has stayed together and found a way to overcome."
Meyer had three goals and Bowers added a pair for the Big Green, who earned an NCAA at-large berth and were making their 12th tournament appearance. Albany goalkeeper Anna Berman matched a career-high with nine saves. Sample tied a career-best point total with one goal and two assists.
"Someone new has played well each game," stated Branchini, who scored a goal for the first time since April 16 and has 21 on the season. "That's why we have been successful. The team needed me to move to offense and it gave their defense a different look."
Albany is the third America East Conference program to win an NCAA first-round game ... Boston U. accomplished the feat in 2005 and 2008 ... the Great Danes are the 17th team to enter the NCAA Tournament play undefeated or untied ... Albany made its first NCAA appearance since the women's lacrosse became a varsity sport in 1992 ... Jodi Battaglia set the program's single-season record for goals (54), breaking a mark previously held by Rafaela Nikas, who scored 51 in 1998 ... Persy Sample's matched her career-high points total (1 goal, 2 assists) ... the freshman had three goals against Niagara on March 11 ... Taylor Frink is the school's career assists leader with 82 ... Albany has had three programs record NCAA Division I Tournament wins, including men's lacrosse and softball in 2007 ...