March 27, 2014

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WD3 Notebook: Ithaca Opens Empire 8 Slate Strong

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter


Sophomore Riley Marion has 15 goals and two assist for the Bombers. (Ithaca Athletic Communications)

Heading into last weekend, Ithaca was a 1-4 women’s lacrosse team on paper only.

The Bombers had lost to Geneseo, York and Gettysburg — all Top 15 teams — by a combined six goals. Then they kept it close in the first half against No. 2 Cortland, before the Red Dragons pulled away after halftime for a 12-7 win.

“We’re not used to being a 1-4 team,” said Ithaca coach Shannon McHale. “We had to just say, ‘Let’s not think about the numbers. Let’s not think about our record. Let’s just look at how can we get better each day.’”

Which they did. This week, the Bombers (3-4) opened their Empire 8 season with two victories, including an upset of then-No. 11 St. John Fisher on Saturday. The win was all the sweeter considering the Cardinals were the team that knocked Ithaca from the NCAA tournament with a victory in last season’s E8 championship game.

Earlier on against St. John Fisher, it looked like 1-5 was a real possibility. The Bombers fell behind 4-0 and trailed, 6-4, at halftime. They went on to score the game’s final four goals, including the winner from Niki Standera with 17:35 remaining and pulled out the 9-7 victory.

Ithaca and St. John Fisher had split their previous four meetings, with Ithaca winning both regular season games and St. John Fisher triumphing in both postseason contests, over the past two seasons. Interestingly enough, this was the first time that McHale had recruited more players on Ithaca than St. John Fisher. She coached the Cardinals for 10 years before heading to Ithaca prior to the 2012 season.

“They’re great people,” McHale said of her former team. “It’s kind of fun to see how far they’ve come. Competitive on the field, obviously, but fun.”

Ithaca beat St. John Fisher, and Geneseo, in last year's regular season but still did not hear its name called on Selection Sunday. But McHale said snubs are not something the Bombers focus on. McHale has sat on the committee in the past, so she knows how tough it can be to decide on those last few at-large teams. It’s better to win the conference tournament, get the automatic qualification, and take the guess work out of it.

“All I said to the team was ‘That’s great, but we’ve got to prove ourselves,’” McHale said. “Either you’re going to dominate and get the job done or not.”

The talent is certainly there to get the job done this year, and they’re battle-tested from the early schedule, when the Bombers were working in five new starters. They likely won’t be a 1-4 team any time in the near future. 

Their leading scorer is freshman Ally Runyon, who has 21 goals and three assists. Sophomore Riley Marion is right behind with 15 goals and two assists. Junior Molly Fisher (13 goals, one assist) and senior Becky Guzzo (four goals, five assists) make sure every grade level is represented on the scoring list. And they’ve been backed by a freshman goalie, Emily Ross, who has survived being thrown directly into the fire in her first collegiate season.

“There aren’t a lot of stars,” McHale said. “They just come to work and they’ll do whatever it takes for the team to pursue excellence. I think they feel like every game somebody different can step up.”

The next chance for someone to step uup will be April 1, when the Bombers look to boost their non-league resume against Union of the Liberty League.

Looking Ahead

Friday: No. 2 Cortland  (6-0) vs. No. 9 Geneseo (6-0), 1 p.m. at Monroe CC

It's the SUNYAC showdown that was so anticipated they had to move it up a day, from Saturday to Friday. Cortland beat Geneseo twice last season and no team has come close to touching the Red Dragons this year, but on a neutral site in Rochester we’ll see whether the gap in the SUNYAC has closed. These teams traditionally play twice every year, so this is also likely a preview of a SUNYAC tournament game. The Blue Knights have played a bunch of close games this season, have a victory over Ithaca in their pockets, and now have a history of ending unbeaten seasons after last year’s NCAA tournament victory over Susquehanna. But it’s tough to beat the Red Dragons, as Geneseo coach Carly Ritchlin surely knows. She graduated from Cortland in 2001.

Game Balls

Marissa Cussins, Fredonia: The Blue Devils have bounced back with five straight victories since losing their first two games of the season, and Cussins has played a huge role of the turnaround. The junior from Corning, N.Y., put up six goals on Tuesday as the Blue Devils upset St. John Fisher, 10-7. Three days earlier, in a 15-2 victory over Wooster, Cussins paired six goals with one assist.

Shannon Carta, Salisbury: The senior from Annapolis, Md., helped the defending NCAA champion Sea Gulls defeat two of the top teams in the country this week. On Sunday, Carta scored the winning goal on a free position in overtime to give Salisbury a 9-8 victory over Franklin and Marshall. On Wednesday, Carta added three goals and one assist as the Sea Gulls won their program-record 33rd consecutive home game, 9-7, over Colby.

Ava Fitzgerald, TCNJ: The junior from Merrick, N.Y., scored the winning goal off a free position in overtime to give the Lions an 11-10 victory over Gettysburg on Thursday. Fitzgerald also scored with 1:10 remaining in regulation to cut TCNJ’s deficit to one goal. Fitzgerald added four more goals and two assists in a pair of victories later in the week for the Lions, who now stand at 7-0.

Notes

No. 3 Middlebury improved to 6-0, and head coach Missy Foote won her 400th game, with a 19-4 victory over RIT on Tuesday morning in Florida. Foote, who is in her 34th season at Middlebury, now holds a 400-104-1 record and is one of just four women’s lacrosse coaches to win over 400 games. The next two victories should be hard-earned. The Panthers visit No. 4 Franklin and Marshall on Thursday, before heading to No. 7 Amherst on Saturday.

***

No. 10 Williams continued its climb up the rankings with a 6-5 victory over Bates on Saturday. The Ephs trailed, 5-3, with less than three minutes remaining, but closed out with three straight goals from Maeve Mulholland, Rebecca Bell and Rebecca McGovern, who delivered the winner with 51 seconds remaining. Williams takes this weekend off from the NESCAC slate and picks back up with a trip to Tufts on April 2.

***

No. 8 Trinity bounced back from back-to-back losses with a pair of wins, highlighted by an 11-7 takedown of Tufts on Saturday. Martha Griffin, Caroline Hayes and Lindsay Mullaney all scored three goals to lead the Bantams, who host Bowdoin this weekend.

***

No. 15 Washington and Lee avenged last season’s loss to Roanoke with an 11-9 victory on Saturday. The victory moved the Generals, who have reestablished themselves as the team to beat in the ODAC, to 4-0 in league play.


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