March 8, 2012

Offense Leads, Freshmen on 'D' Key Stonehill's Important Dowling Win

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

A veteran offense led by Heather Sullivan and Kelsey Reilly (above) was key, but the biggest difference in the second half Wednesday was how Stonehill's young defense dug in to slow Dowling down.
© Stonehill

Last season's arrival of Le Moyne from Division I and the ascension of young programs like Dowling has made life in Division II's North Region more competitive than ever. In a region home to nine of the Top 15 teams in the latest IWLCA poll, championships may not be won in March but can certainly be lost.

So Wednesday's 12-11 comeback road victory for No. 8 Stonehill over No.13 Dowling held a bit more importance than your average season-opener.

"When we first scheduled that game so early I was nonchalant about it," said Stonehill coach Katie Conover. "The game has to be played either way, it doesn't matter when it is."

It did matter. A loss could have effectively knocked Stonehill out of the playoff race after its first game. Last season's three North playoff teams, Adelphi, Le Moyne and Dowling, combined for six losses and just three in the regular season. And five of those losses came against Adelphi.

"Arguably four or five of the Top 8 teams come out of the North," Conover said. "You're going to have to beat the team that maybe you're supposed to beat and some you're not supposed to beat."

Dowling (0-2) is certainly a team Stonehill needed to beat. The Golden Lions won the matchup last season, 13-8, and eventually earned a spot in the NCAA tournament. Dowling now has four ranked Northern opponents remaining before its May 5 season finale against C.W. Post. The Golden Panthers will likely have to win them all and beat Post to re-enter the playoff conversation.

When Stonehill fell behind 4-0, it looked like a repeat of 2011 was on its way. Stonehill has a very young defense and Dowling a very good offense, led by Brooke Witkowski, D-II's leading returning scorer.

"They were kind of caught on their heels," Conover said.

Stonehill's defense got even younger when freshman goalie Ashley Armstrong was inserted after halftime with her team trailing 7-3.

When the Sky Hawks clawed back in, scoring the first two goals of the second half to get within two, Dowling answered with a goal. Stonehill scored another two goals, Dowling scored again. They traded goals until 9:24 remaining when Sam Lynott scored a free-position goal to kick off a game-ending 3-0 run.

Heather Sullivan tied the game for the first time since 0-0 off an assist from Mary Lee Mahony with 8:34 remaining and won it off an assist from Lynott with 5:35 remaining.

"They're young, but they're not naive," Conover said. They're a very coachable group. They really just want to do well... Sometimes when you're in a position like that, all that matters is heart and hustle. We made sure they knew we believed in them. 'We trust you. You wouldn't be out there if we weren't confident in you.'"

The veteran offense behind Sullivan, a junior, Lynott, a senior, and junior Kelsey Reilly (three goals, five ground balls, five draw controls) was key, but the biggest difference in the second half was how Stonehill's young defense dug in to slow Dowling down.

"I think our underclassmen won that game," Conover said. "The freshmen kind of exceeded our expectations. They played 100 percent the entire game. They were pretty much dragging themselves off the field."

Witkowski led Dowling with two goals and three assists and Tina Fey made 11 saves.

Sullivan had three goals. Lynott had two goals and one assist for Stonehill. Armstrong made six saves against four goals allowed in the second half. Armstrong made two saves in the final five minutes, including one with 23 seconds remaining to seal it.

"Sometimes you've given it all you got but somewhere there's that extra 20 percent that you didn't know was in there," Conover added. "They found it."

Stonehill will likely need that extra 20 percent again next week, when it heads south to take on No. 14 Pfeiffer and No. 5 Rollins.

Saint Anselm Gets First Ranked Victory

Stonehill was the second Northeast-10 squad to defeat Dowling this season. Saint Anselm headed to Long Island and took down the Lions 13-11 on Friday. It was Saint Anselm's first-ever win over a nationally-ranked team.

Freshman Marissa Daly led all players with the first six goals of her career. Ten of Saint Anselm's goals were scored by freshmen.

The freshman class could key a turnaround for the Hawks (1-2), who lost 23-10 at Dowling last season and were picked eighth in the NE-10 preseason poll. Saint Anselm begins its NE-10 season at Merrimack on Saturday.

Queens (N.Y.) on the Rise

The third-year program at Queens (N.Y.) could be the next Long Island area team to make its mark in Division II. The Knights (2-0) defeated Saint Anselm 15-12 on Sunday, two days after the Hawks upset Dowling. Queens followed that by holding on to beat Assumption 12-11 on Wednesday.

Heather Rosen had six goals, including the game-winner, against Assumption (0-2). Rosen had five goals and one assist against Saint Anselm.

Queens heads to the Philadelphia University on March 21, kicking off a three-game stretch against the CACC before ECC play begins at Dowling on March 31.

Queens (N.C.) Rising Too

The traditionally stronger and longer-tenured Queens University of Charlotte pulled off a big win of its own last week, defeating Regis (Col.) 13-11 behind five goals from Brittany Phillips.

That victory highlighted an unpredictable opening season from teams in the South and West. Queens (3-2) beat Regis (2-3) and Lenoir-Rhyne (5-2). Regis beat Pfeiffer (3-2), which also lost to Lenoir-Rhyne by one goal. Pfeiffer, which beat Gannon when it was ranked No. 12, is ranked fourteenth this week. Lenoir-Rhyne, a second year independent program from North Carolina, has won four straight.

The early tests should benefit the Carolina teams, since perennial-favorite Limestone is as strong as ever. The Saints (4-1) bounced back from their one-goal loss to Rollins with two straight double-digit wins.

Regis, which won the WILA with a 14-1 record last season, will benefit from the early slate as well as it tries to defend its title against upstart newcomer Lindenwood (3-1) and unbeaten Fort Lewis (2-0).

All Adelphi (Still) Does is Win

Adelphi entered the Rob Grella era the same way it left Joe Spallina era, with a couple of convincing wins. The Panthers defeated No. 11 Molloy, 15-11, last Wednesday and won at Bloomsburg, 20-6, Monday. Adelphi has now won 27 games in a row, dating back to 2010.

Sara Sangiorgio had five goals and one assist and Devan Crimi had four goals and three assists against Bloomsbury. Erica Devito led the way with two goals and four assists against Molloy.

Adelphi (2-0) and Le Moyne (2-0) are tied for No. 1 in the polls this week. Having two teams share the top spot was no knock on Adelphi, more of a reflection on how well Le Moyne has played. The Dolphins won their first two games by a combined score of 24-5. The respect among coaches for Le Moyne and Adelphi was clear when Molloy moved up three spots in the rankings after losing by five to Adelphi.

Adelphi plays at Philadelphia on Saturday. Le Moyne opens its NE-10 season against No. 12 Bentley (1-0) on Friday.


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