May 17, 2012

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WD3 Notebook: Middlebury Looks to Pass Final Tests

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Lucy Jackson is a leader on a generally young Middlebury team that's reached the final four. The Panthers take on Salisbury at 1 p.m. Saturday in Montclair, N.J.
© Middlebury

Middlebury is one of the top five liberal arts schools in the country. So when its women’s lacrosse team took on defending NCAA champion Gettysburg on Sunday, the weekend before final exams, coach Missy Foote placed the task in familiar terms.

“I told them the Gettysburg game was just another final,” Foote said.

The Panthers aced that test, defeating Gettysburg, 15-9, on Sunday, the only road victory for any team in the quarterfinal round. The game was closer than the final score indicated. Middlebury scored the final six goals, but Gettysburg pulled its goalie late in the second half.

Now as the rest of Middlebury’s campus buckles down for exams, the Panthers face a few more tests this weekend in Montclair, N.J. On Friday, Foote will proctor some academic finals. On Saturday it’s an athletic test as the Panthers take on Salisbury at 1 p.m. in the national semifinals. Get through that and one final remains: Sunday’s NCAA Championship.

A key for Middlebury in that monumental task will be draw controls, a skill the Panthers finally seem to have figured out. They won 14-of-26 against Gettysburg, a team that ranked seventh among NCAA tournament teams in draw controls.

Faceoffs have been a problem for Middlebury ever since four-year starter Stephanie Gill suffered an ACL injury in a non-league game against Colorado College on March 28. The Panthers were 6-0 at the time. They won their next three before proceeding to drop four of seven.

Behind the scenes, Middlebury was in the process of redoing its entire faceoff team.

“There’s a lot to the draw,” Foote said. “You have to have a draw team. It’s not just in where a player sends it. It’s also how they send it. There’s a lot of moving parts. Not just move it and send it only to one spot all the time, because then the player who gets set up to receive that is going to get boxed out. That’s an easy thing for a defender.”

Daily draw tryouts became the norm before practice.

“We’d come out early and everyone would show me what they could do," Foote said. "We’d look at some people and say, ‘No, don’t come back again.’”

Eventually, Catherine Fowler stepped up. The freshman from Grosse Pointe, Mich., hadn’t been on Foote’s radar for the job, but has stabilized the position.

“She is really able to self-draw and send it to other players,” Foote said. Against Gettysburg, Fowler had five draw controls herself.

Eventually Gill was able to rehab herself back into playing shape, but she was re-injured and is now out for the season. She’s still finding ways contribute and has been instrumental in helping Fowler emerge. The draw duo roomed together at Gettysburg, so any of the master’s remaining wisdom could be absorbed by the protege.

Leadership is something Middlebury’s five seniors, Gill, goalie Lily Nguyen, attacker Elizabeth Garry, and defenders Lucy Jackson and Hannah Epstein, bring to its young team.

Nguyen, the 2011 IWLCA goaltender of the year, is fifth in the NCAA in goals against average (6.74) and 30th in save percentage (.484). Garry is second on the team with 32 goals and led all players with four goals against Gettysburg. Jackson has started every game and has 21 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers. Epstein has 18 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers.

It’s little surprise that Middlebury is in the final four, even with five seniors. Middlebury, which has won five NCAA titles, is the kind of place where a team of freshman would understand the expectation: an NCAA championship.

“It’s part of our culture and part of our tradition,” Foote said. “It’s not something we talk about, but our players walk next to all these trophies in the case every time they walk to practice.”
If all goes well this weekend, a new trophy, the first since 2004, will be added to that case.

Sea Gulls Sail into Semis

If it reaches the finals, Middlebury will have gotten past the last two NCAA champions.

Salisbury, which won the title in 2010, took down Catholic, 13-6, on Sunday. The Sea Gulls (21-0) are making their eighth trip to the final four.

Kate Bollhorst had four goals and three assists, Lauren Feusahrens had three goals and two assists, and Allie Wheatley had three goals to lead Salisbury. Mary Swarthout had four goals for Catholic, which finishes at 16-6.

Salisbury and Middlebury have not met since the 2007 NCAA semifinals, when the Sea Gulls eliminated Middlebury, 8-7, but they previously played a yearly non-league game.

"From having played them in the past I know they are incredibly athletic," Foote said. "I know they have a very good goalie and I know Jim Nestor is a great coach."

Trinity Locks Down Colby

Trinity reached its first-ever final four on Sunday, defeating Colby for the second time this season, 7-5, in Hartford.

Megan Leonhard and Hadley Duncan had two goals each for the Bantams (19-1), who limited Colby to just eight shots, six on goal.

Claire Donegan had one goal and one assist for Colby (15-3), which lost three times this season, but twice to Trinity.

Trinity will face Cortland Saturday at 4 p.m.

Cortland Back in Final Four

Cortland will be the only returner from last year’s semifinals. The Red Dragons knocked off the College of New Jersey, 9-7, at home on Sunday.

Erin Kollar led Cortland with four goals and one assist and Maria Di Fate had three goals and two assists.

Two members of the preseason Tewaaraton Watch List faced off in this game, Cortland’s Lindsay Abbot and TCNJ’s Leigh Mitchell. Both had one goal and one assist.

Cortland dropped a heartbreaker to Gettysburg in last year’s Final Four, 13-11.

Cortland and Trinity did not play each other this season, but last year Cortland defeated Trinity’s NESCAC-mates Tufts and Colby in the NCAA tournament.

Mark Macyk has covered Division II and III women’s lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine since 2011. He can be contacted at markmacyk@gmail.com.


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