March 24, 2016
With hopes of guiding Lock Haven back to the NCAA final, captain Shannon Bissnette leads the Bald Eagles with a team-high 21 assists. (Keith Lucas)
With hopes of guiding Lock Haven back to the NCAA final, captain Shannon Bissnette leads the Bald Eagles with a team-high 21 assists. (Keith Lucas)

WD2 Notes: LHU Remains Unbeaten with New Coach, Roster

by Matt Hamilton | | Twitter

Over the past few seasons, Lock Haven has built a tradition of success and a reputation to uphold. With three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances – including two straight championship game appearances – the Bald Eagles have established themselves as one of the top programs in Division II.

However, a lot has changed since Lock Haven fell to Adelphi 5-4 in overtime in last year's NCAA final. Nine starters graduated last May, leaving several holes to fill in this year's lineup. Plus, then-coach Kristen Selvage departed to accept the same position at Division I's Coastal Carolina on August 18, leaving the 2015 runner-up with three returning starters, a coaching vacancy and a bar that was set high to remain a championship-caliber team.

When new coach Lindsay Reese took the reins in October of last year after spending the last three seasons leading Lycoming, she knew there was work to do. But as a former Bald Eagle herself, graduating in 2007, she was ready for the challenge.

Reese was a two-time captain while playing for Selvage, recording 143 career goals and 64 assists to earn All-American honors as a junior. In her four years with the program, Lock Haven advanced to the final four twice (2005, 2007).

"There was pressure, but it wasn't an unwanted pressure," Reese said. "I knew what was getting into. I played here and I was part of it already and I was excited to get into that role. ... I want to do huge things and I want the program to continue the success that it's had in the past."

And the Bald Eagles have done just that. They jumped out to a 7-0 record to open 2016 – including three straight one-goal victories against Regis, Kutztown and Seton Hill – with a roster that includes 18 underclassmen. Reese welcomed the hot start as Lock Haven has won 27 of their last 28 games and are poised to compete for another NCAA tournament berth in May.

"I was really blown away that I was offered the position [to take] over at my alma mater," Reese said. "Such a young group of girls really stepped up into the role and continued the legacy of Lock Haven lacrosse."

Reese wasn't the only significant addition to this Lock Haven program during the offseason. Rutgers transfer Rachel Engler, who joined the team before Selvage left for Coastal Carolina, leads with 29 goals.

After playing in just eight games for the Scarlet Knights in 2015, the current junior knew she needed a change of scenery in order to make her final collegiate seasons memorable. With advice from her former Boyertown high school coach Pam Wernersbach, who knew Selvage, Engler had her eyes set on Lock Haven, where her former Boyertown teammates Alex O'Herrick and Emily Gerhart played.

"I saw how happy [they were] here and how successful [they were] here," Engler said. "After my transfer papers went through, I contacted Kristen Selvage, and within a week, I was up here visiting with Alex. On that day, I said I wanted to come here."

Engler's impact is obvious – no other Bald Eagle has more than 14 goals – but Reese said the offense centers around junior captain Shannon Bissnette, the team's "quarterback" who has six goals and 21 assists for second-best 27 points. Bissnette's experience in both national championship losses to Adelphi drives her – and her team – forward.

"Every single day, I think about how we lost in the NCAA finals two years in a row," said Bissnette. "It fuels everything I do and motivates me to work even harder for this team. Knowing what it's like to lose makes you want to win that much more."

The road to the NCAA tournament starts with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), which includes No. 6 Mercyhurst (6-1) and No. 7 West Chester (6-1). While Lock Haven is the reigning two-time conference champion, its schedule doesn't get any easier with No. 11 Limestone marked for April 17.

But with an unblemished record, including two PSAC wins, the Bald Eagles have a chance to return to the title game. Then it may be time to address the elephant in the room: How do they get by Adelphi?

"You had to say it, huh?" Reese said.

Factor in Engler's attacking prowess combined with Bissnette's vision and Lock Haven could have its answer.

Amanda Schimpke and Maddie Ossello each tallied a hat trick as Lindenwood cruised past Limestone 12-5 to improve to 9-0 on the season. (Sideline Media Productions)

Lindenwood Dominates Limestone

It's hard to ignore Lindenwood's 9-0 record after the Lady Lions defeated No. 11 Limestone 12-5 on Sunday behind hat tricks from Amanda Schimpke and Maddi Ossello. After leading 7-3 at halftime, Lindenwood outshot the Saints 34-15 and forced 22 turnovers.

Lock Haven will be keeping an eye on the Lions as they turn to face Rollins on Tuesday because all three teams – Lindenwood, Lock Haven and Rollins – are undefeated, competing for the top two seeds in the NCAA South Region.

Mercyhurst Survives Test

In another quality win on Saturday, No. 6 Mercyhurst downed No. 7 West Chester 9-8 in double overtime thanks to Emily Gebhardt's game-winning goal with seven seconds remaining on the clock. 

After trailing 8-4 with 18:18 left in the second half, Gebhardt led a five-goal scoring run with two of her own to shut out the Golden Rams in the final 16:02 in regulation plus overtime.

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