April 1, 2011

NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Notebook: Trinity Emerges as NESCAC Favorite

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com


Meaghan Leonard and the Trinity women's lacrosse team are reigning NESCAC regular season champions, but they fell to seventh-seeded Williams in the playoffs last year. Could the Bantams first NESCAC title be in the offing in 2011?

Boasting some of country's best academics and centuries of tradition, the schools of the NESCAC deserve the "Little Ivies" distinction. But in women's lacrosse, the NESCAC is starting to resemble another northeast-based conference.

Think it was impressive when the Big East sent 11 of its 16 schools to the NCAA basketball championship? The NESCAC, which has a record seven of its 10 teams ranked in the top 10 of this week's IWLCA Division III poll, might be ever more dominant.

Every week's been a battle. No. 13 Williams (4-3) and No. 11 Tufts (4-2) each have only one non-league loss. No. 18 Amherst (4-2), No. 15 Bowdoin (4-1) and No. 8 Colby (6-1) have only lost in league. No. 12 Middlebury (6-0) and No. 4 Trinity (6-0) haven't lost at all.

If may seem easy to crack the top 20 nationally when you play in the NESCAC, but staying undefeated is another story. Even unranked, ninth-place Wesleyan (5-3) is undefeated outside the conference.

Trinity looks like the early favorite to repeat as regular season champions, with tight victories over Bowdoin and Colby already under its belt and a lofty national ranking. The Bantams claimed it last season with two regular season losses. They were denied their first-ever postseason title by Williams, the seven seed.

"That's the way this league is," said Trinity coach Kate Livesay. "You don't go in expecting to be undefeated; you hope you play well enough and beat enough teams to put yourself in a good position. It's a different mentality."

That mentality starts early. There isn't much of a non-league warmup. League games started March 12 and it's nothing but conference weekends until the NESCAC tournament commences May 1.

So far Trinity has managed to stay undefeated with close wins over the NESCAC's Maine contingent, a 8-7 win at Bowdoin last week and an 11-9 win over Colby in Florida on Saturday. Trinity trailed 4-0, 8-5 and 9-7 in the latter game, but rallied and scored the eventual game-winner when senior Rachel Romanowsky connected with sophomore Megan Leonhard with 3:53 to go. Sophomore goalie Olivia Whitney made two saves down the stretch to preserve the lead, and a last-second goal by Hadley Duncan sealed it.

"We had to crawl our way back in," Livesay said. "They're a strong team... We rely on a lot of sophomores, and we've had to fit a lot of players into new roles. I'm happy to see those guys step up. That's been a key. Our juniors and seniors are setting the standard, but they wouldn't be able to [without the sophomores]."

The Bantams played eight of their 10 sophomores Saturday and started five; only one started last season as an injury fill-in. Livesay said the sophomores have been the difference-makers that could push Trinity to the top and help the school win its first NESCAC tournament, but it's the veterans that are the backbone.

Romanowski, a captain and two-time All-American, sets up the offense and leads the team with 12 assists and 22 points. Captain Alisen Urquhart, a workhorse on midfield, is third on the team with 11 points. Junior Liz Bruno has made an impact at the defensive midfield, a big reason why Trinity ranks second in the league in goals allowed per game.

The road doesn't get any easier for the Bantams, who play at Williams on Saturday and have trips to Tufts and Middlebury in the coming weeks.

"It's not a big class of veterans, but we're used to it," Livesay said. "I think all the teams are to a certain extent. These kids know they should be out there producing. It's their expectation that they're going to win. That's a hard mentality to maintain in the NESCAC. Will you win every game? You don't know, but you have to have that mentality."

Middlebury passes first test of brutal stretch

When Middlebury hosts Trinity on April 16, it has the possibility of being the NESCAC's final battle between unbeatens. If that happens, consider Middlebury a favorite for more than an NESCAC title.

It's been seven years since the Panthers raised their fifth NCAA championship, the last time a NESCAC school reached the final. The next two weeks should give an indication of whether they're ready for a return.

After rolling at No. 9 Stevens 17-7 on Tuesday, Middlebury erased a three-goal deficit with three minutes remaining to defeat No. 10 Catholic on Thursday. Sally Ryan scored the game-winner with three seconds remaining to cap the run.

CUA was Middlebury's third opponent in a five-game road swing and, more daunting, the second in a string of seven straight ranked opponents. The NESCAC slate is tough enough. Middlebury plays at Colby (Saturday), then hosts Bowdoin (April 9), Amherst (April 13) and Trinity (April 16). But the Panthers are also playing a brutal non-league schedule with road games at Stevens, Catholic and Hamilton (April 5).

Ryan finished with seven goals against Catholic and leads the team with 28 goals and four assists. Sophomore Ellen Halle had five goals and two assists against Stevens and entered Thursday second on the team with 14 goals and three assists.

Defense wins championships, probably

Defense is certainly winning in the regular season. Through Thursday, four top-20 teams in the NESCAC -- Bowdoin (7.00), Trinity (7.20), Middlebury (7.25) and Amherst (7.80) -- are averaging less than eight goals allowed per game. The country's two stingiest teams, TCNJ (2.13) and Geneseo (4.50), are both undefeated. Messiah, Gettysburg and Franklin and Marshall also rank in the top 20 in goals against.

Contrast that with scoring offense. Only one ranked team -- No. 1 TCNJ, ranked ninth nationally with 17 goals per game -- cracked the top 10 in scoring. Salisbury (16 points per game) ranked 16th.

Franklin and Marshall delivers when it counts

Before Friday's 11-10 overtime victory over then No. 1 Salisbury, Franklin and Marshall coach Lauren Paul said she wanted her team to treat every game like Salisbury. It seems like the Dips have taken that to heart, following the Salisbury upset with 11-goal wins over a strong Washington College team and Oneonta.

F&M went 3-for-14 on free positions during its spring break loss to Messiah a few weeks back, something Paul said it needed to improve. In the first half against Salisbury, the Dips did just that, keeping the game tied by making all three free positions in the first half. The Dips went 0-for-3 in the second half, but Kristen Chandler's sudden death game-winner came on a free position at the most important time.

F&M gets into its conference schedule this week before hosting No. 1 TCNJ on April 15.

TCNJ enters tough stretch

When TCNJ (7-0) heads to Lancaster to play F&M on April 15, it will be the culmination of a six-game road swing that will have already brought the Lions to No. 6 Gettysburg (Friday) and No. 2 Salisbury (April 10).

TCNJ has emerged as the favorite in Division III. The Lions haven't had trouble with anyone so far; the closest win was a 12-5 result over No. 5 Cortland on March 13. Only one other margin was by single digits, an 11-2 win over Drew last Saturday. Since the Cortland game, the Lions have pitched one shutout, allowed one goal twice, two goals twice and three goals once. Senior goalie Mary Weller's 2.15 goals against average leads the country.

Junior Leigh Mitchell has 31 assists and leads the country in assists per game. In a 17-1 win over FDU-Dickinson last week, Mitchell dished out five assists and became the school's all-time leader in assists. She already set the school's single-season mark last year with 50.


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