Month: May 2018

James Madison has set the bar for mid-major programs: Anything is possible

Originally published for SB Nation’s College Crosse.

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Twenty-two point one seconds. That’s all the time that was left, as James Madison nursed a 16-15 lead in the national championship game.

Twenty-two point one seconds from history. Twenty-two point one seconds from turning the lacrosse world upside-down.

Molly Dougherty, James Madison’s freshman goalie, had just watched a shot hit her, then hit the LaValle Stadium turf with topspin to reduce the Dukes lead from two goals to one.

Drunken Boston College fans chanted her name from the end-zone seating behind her — “Molly… Molly…,“ dropping the pitch from high-to-low in singsong fashion — like you’d hear in a playoff NHL game. But she was unfazed.

“All we need is one,” she told her teammates. “One more.” One more draw control. One more defensive stop. One more save. Any would suffice, but it wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t be easy.

Boston College’s Sam Apuzzo — a wunderkind on offense, a maestro in the circle — had just assisted on the Tess Chandler goal to bring the Eagles within one. After setting up the proximate goal, Apuzzo and Boston College had a tepid celebration before she strutted back to her office. Whether it was against Syracuse or Stony Brook or Maryland, Apuzzo has shown a knack for delivering in crunch-time. She’s considered a Tewaaraton front-runner for a reason. Here on Long Island, her home, on the national championship stage? It seemed like this was her moment.

Before the final draw, Apuzzo had won six out of seven faceoffs over the final 10 minutes of the game.

Neither player, Apuzzo nor Haley Warden, won the draw clean, and the ball flew into the air toward the Boston College offensive end. At the top of the circle, the lanky Kristen Gaudian and Dempsey Arsenault jumped for the prize. The ball ricocheted off the crosse of Arsenault and right to the stick of JMU’s Haley Warden. Warden shoveled a pass wide to her teammate Hanna Haven and let out a sigh of relief.

“Just run!” Warden screamed. “Just run!”

Haven may not have heard her teammate but nonetheless obliged. She sprinted up the left sideline, stick in her left hand as she fended off the chasing Arsenault with her right. She ran all the way to the far corner and circled around the net.

The final horn sounded and James Madison, ranked No. 17 preseason by the media, ruled women’s lacrosse. It was the first time a Colonial Athletic Association school had ever NCAA champion in a spring sport.

“No heroes.” That was James Madison head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe’s locker room message before the game. “We play as a team.”

That isn’t to say that the Dukes don’t have heroes. They do.

With three and a half minutes left, Gaudian dropped the ball in the middle of the Boston College defense. Three Eagles surrounded her, but somehow Gaudian scooped it up, pivoted toward net and split two more defenders to score and put her team up 15-13 at the time. It was ridiculous and it was her 80th goal on the season. There’s a reason that Boston College defender Hannah Hyatt was employed on Sunday as a full-time Kristen Gaudian faceguard. She’s a Tewaaraton finalist and was named the 2018 CAA Player of the Year.

Kristen Gaudian is a hero.

With just over a minute left, Warden slipped from her defender to a quiet area in front of the Eagles goal. Teammate Katie Kerrigan threw her a pass and Warden promptly finished it, her ninth goal of the Final Four weekend. It gave the Dukes a 16-14 lead late. Warden was a difference-maker in all three zones for James Madison her whole career. In 2017 she was honored as CAA Player of the Year; in 2018 she was nabbed CAA Defensive Player of the Year. On Sunday, she was named the weekend’s Most Outstanding Player.

Haley Warden is a hero.

But “no heroes” is the philosophy and it’s abundantly apparent watching this team play. It’s a mantra that cuts deeper than individual impact (something of which James Madison obviously has plenty). It’s seen in the approach and the motive: “Don’t do it for yourself; do it for the team.”

No, this James Madison team fought for each other.

About 24 and a half minutes remained when the Dukes zone defense faced its greatest adversity of the game. Corinne Schmidt slid to guard Boston College’s Cara Urbank, who rolled to her right and then backpedaled toward the sideline. As Schmidt forced Urbank out of room, she accidentally put her crosse up high and it glanced Urbank’s face.

The nearby official blew her whistle and Schmidt was assessed a yellow card, her second of the day, which disqualified her from playing the rest of the day.

At first, Schmidt was heartbroken. As she ran to the sideline, the look on her face was torturous; there was so much pain. Of course there was. It was the final game of her career and the biggest of her life. This national championship at Stony Brook was just on the opposite shore of Long Island from her hometown of Bay Shore. And the Dukes had just watched their 8-6 lead turn into a 10-9 deficit. Schmidt’s emotion’s were running high.

After a couple of minutes of cooling down, Schmidt knew she had to be there for her teammates though.

“It would have been really easy for her to fall into herself and be upset and then be a distraction on the sideline,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “But … she had strength so her team could have strength. I think from that moment in the game, things changed for JMU and that’s when we took our run and that’s when we took charge of the game.”

Sure enough, James Madison’s defense played for her. For the two minutes after the penalty, Boston College’s offense was playing 7-on-6, but one would only have noticed if they counted. The Dukes penalty kill was everywhere. The slides were fast, the communication was crisp, and the Eagles couldn’t get anything to the inside. Their sense of urgency came from that selfless approach: they had to do it for Schmidt.

“We were playing for each other but we really had to play for her,” senior defender Rebecca Tooker, also from Long Island, said. “She’s been there from the beginning, the hard times, and the ups and downs, but we just really wanted to come together and just get it for her.”

After killing the penalty, James Madison buried three straight goals — Maddie McDaniel, Elena Romesburg and Gaudian — to go ahead 12-10. The Dukes stayed in the lead the rest of the way.

Zone defense isn’t for those looking for glory. Often the James Madison unit slides and rotates in such cohesion that individuals are indistinguishable.

“We’re all in it together as a team,” Tooker said. “We don’t really want to see each other as individuals.”

It’s a style of defense that is adored by some, loathed by others. Many “small schools” employ it, with Stony Brook perhaps best known for it (leading the nation in goals against average in five of the last six seasons). Navy plays zone defense; so does Syracuse, whose men’s basketball team might have the most famous zone in sports. Even North Carolina used zone from time to time this season.

But James Madison’s zone is special and over the weekend, it completely shut down two premier programs in North Carolina and Boston College. It is believed to be the first time in NCAA Division-I Women’s Lacrosse history that a team has won a national championship while strictly playing a zone.

“The type of zone that they play,” Eagles head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein said. “They sort of bait you into thinking you know the middle is open and we made some of those mistakes and fell for that.”

Boston College committed 18 turnovers — “too many,” as Walker-Weinstein said — with five being charged to Kaileen Hart. For James Madison, though, no player was credited with causing more than two of the turnovers, while nine players caused at least one.

After North Carolina’s semifinal loss to James Madison, head coach Jenny Levy had the following analysis of the Dukes zone: “They play three low on the crease, so any time you put anything inside, your shooters are getting people up into their arms and up into their body in the middle, and they seem to protect the ball pretty well with two on the ball all the time.”

James Madison finishes the season with the No. 3 ranked adjusted defense in the nation, according to Analytics Lacrosse.

At the end of Sunday’s game, ESPN’s play-by-play announcer John Brickley called James Madison a “Cinderella,” and it’s a word that gets tossed around anytime an unexpected champion emerges.

On face, this Dukes team checks all the boxes. Nobody believed in them. They were ranked outside the top-15 preseason. Their star player was a walk-on out of high school. It was their first Final Four in 18 years. They came from the Colonial Athletic Association.

But James Madison doesn’t self-identify as a “Cinderella,” as Dougherty said in the press conference.

“That seems like almost kind of a lie to say. That discredits everything everyone put in,” she explained. “It’s top to bottom a whole team effort from the 5 AM, early morning runs, to staying late after practice taking extra shots. That’s that’s what got us here and that’s what’s going to keep us going.”

And indeed, while this James Madison team wasn’t on the radar of many, maybe it should have been. The Dukes had made three straight NCAA Tournaments before this year. In 2017, they lost on the road to then-No. 1 North Carolina by two goals, on the road to then-No. 6 Penn State by three.

This team was close. With the depth and experience of this year’s senior class, of whom eight started in the national title game, they were ready to make the jump.

“When I was recruited here, one of the reasons I wanted to come here was because I wanted to take down the ACC, Big Ten, big name schools,” Romesburg said before the Final Four. “We took all the experience of playing these big-name schools, and now we’ve turned two-goal losses into victories.”

For Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, the James Madison championship was a long time coming.

From 1994 until 1997, she played for the Dukes, becoming a two-time all-American player herself. Throughout her four seasons as a player, they never ranked outside the top-10 in the NCAA rankings (there were far fewer teams then), and won a CAA championship her senior tear, but never made it deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Then after a stint at Hofstra as an assistant and then head coach, she tried for the James Madison job in 2002 but was passed over for Kellie Young. So she stayed with Hofstra. But over her tenure with the Pride — leading them to a program-record No. 7 ranking — it was the JMU job that she eyed the most. In the summer of 2006, Young was hired in a start-up job at Louisville and an opening was there for Klaes-Bawcombe at her alma mater. She returned to James Madison, where she’s been the last 12 years.

Klaes-Bawcombe has the perspective to see the whole transformation of James Madison Lacrosse through the years, even predating the NCAA’s inception of the sport in 1982.

“Fifty years strong!” she said. “Half my life I’ve been a collegiate coach now and I’ve made some big decisions to stay at James Madison when I’ve had opportunities to move on to do just this. And so it really is tremendous satisfaction.”

Walker-Weinstein of Boston College, one of the younger head coaches in women’s lacrosse has nothing but admiration for face of James Madison Lacrosse.

“She’s such an amazing coach and I think a lot of people have known that for a long time,” she said, after her own semifinal victory over Maryland.

In an Instagram post after the game, Stony Brook associate head coach Kim Hillier, who herself was an All-American player at Hofstra under Klaes-Bawcombe, had the following to say: “Congratulations on winning such a well deserv[ed] National Championship! You get kids to buy in and to FIGHT for everything!”

For the past decade at James Madison, the Dukes have been a great team, but for years the logistics of the NCAA Tournament prohibited success. The CAA was, and still is, a conference with two elite teams (JMU and Towson). Five years ago, the bracket expanded from 16 to 26 teams (it’s now 27), which effectively turned the CAA from a one-bid league to a two-bid league, allowing both James Madison and Towson to make the tournament regardless of who wins the championship game.

After winning the championship, Klaes-Bawcombe reflected on the fall of 2014, when this year’s senior class first arrived at James Madison.

“That year, our [current] seniors’ freshman year, the seniors were on a mission and they set the tone really early that they weren’t going to mess around,” she recalled. “Here you have this huge class of freshmen coming in and they were not scared. They were not intimidated. And the seniors were actually a little bit taken aback by the confidence and they didn’t understand how these freshmen could be this confident in such an unfamiliar environment.”

But that’s why Klaes-Bawcombe brought them in. Big personalities with lots of confidence? That’s an asset. That’s what she wanted. No, James Madison wasn’t raking in the top-100 recruits that Maryland or North Carolina were. But they fostered the types of players that Klaes-Bawcombe knew could fit into her system, players she could help mold into champions.

Now here we are. The women’s lacrosse world is upside-down. For the first time in the modern era, a mid-major school won the national championship (depending on how you view Ivy League lacrosse).

It’s a credit to the growth of parity in the sport. This season, four of the top-8 seeds in the NCAA field came from mid-major conferences. Stony Brook has been No. 1 most of the season, Navy made it to the championship last season, and here, James Madison reached the milestone.

“I hope it’s not a culmination,” Klaes-Bawcome said after the game.

It’s time to see if James Madison’s magic is replicable, or if it was a flash in the pan. This season, the Dukes had the luxury of playing the role of the underdog, and to some extent they, and the other mid-majors, always will. These schools lack the size and the traditional recruitment allure of the “Power Five” schools.

“Going into this game I’d say, yeah we were the underdogs,” Warden said. “But right now I just think that our hard work this whole entire season has really paid off and I’m happy we embraced that mentality.”

Will James Madison be able to win championships now that they aren’t the underdog? Who knows. Only one team wins each year. But make no mistake: a win for James Madison was a win for the growth of the sport of lacrosse.

“Everything is not perfect,” Klaes-Bawcombe said about the current state of lacrosse. “There’s a lot to clean up but we’re moving things in the right direction. We have more schools playing than ever, across all divisions. We are making great changes in our rules so that it attracts great fans. Those changes are also attracting other great athletes to want to choose our sport over others. Other communities are picking up the sport.

“So I just think the time is really great for our sport and I think when you have two schools like BC And JMU in the championship, I think that just shows the opportunity that’s out there and I think it’s going to continue to attract great talent to the sport of lacrosse.”

The positive effects of some of these rule changes (the 90-second shot clock, free motion, etc.), have been undeniable. “Stalling” in a traditional sense is a complete afterthought. It no longer exists.

But bigger than that, the rise to prominence of there peripheral programs, is instrumental to the outreach of any sport. It’s a counter-effect to the traditional elitist perception of Maryland, the Big Ten and the ACC.

Anybody can win now.

On Sunday, James Madison established itself as a champion. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Dukes will be back. Mid-majors will be back. And lacrosse is better for it.

Apuzzo, Arsenault and Coach Treanor: Boston College is special in the draw circle

Originally published on SB Nation’s College Crosse

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Sam Apuzzo has been dynamite at the draw circle this season, much to the delight of Boston College, and much to the ire of opposing teams. In the Eagles’ quarterfinal overtime win against the Stony Brook Seawolves, they won 20 of 26 draws, an advantage so huge that even the lethal Stony Brook offense could not overcome.

And yes, a lot of that is creditable to Apuzzo, the junior draw-taker from Long Island. She’s a Tewaaraton finalist for a reason.

But the women’s lacrosse faceoff is not a 1-v-1 skill, and the Eagles’ prowess in the area has as much to do with midfielder Dempsey Arsenault as it does with Apuzzo.

“They play really well together, they really have a connection,” assistant coach Kayla Treanor, who specializes in coaching the draw, said. “It’s the whole draw unit in general, six girls that have been working together all year. They have chemistry that’s helped a lot.”

A three-time Tewaaraton finalist during her playing days at Syracuse, Treanor set a Division-I all-time single-season record in 2016 with 217 draw controls. After graduating, Treanor, now 24 years old, coached one season as an assistant at Harvard University, before returning to Boston College to coach the Eagles this year.

“wWhen I hired Kayla, I told her that this is going to be her biggest role on the team and I really want her to own it,” head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein. “[I wanted her to] take over and make all the changes that she wanted to and develop the individual player.”

And Arsenault and Apuzzo have appreciated Treanor’s presence, helping take Boston College from a solid draw team to one of the nation’s elite.

“We have Kayla, so that’s a huge advantage,” Arsenault said. “We just constantly study the other teams and their tendencies. Communication is key, making sure we’re all on the same page.”

Often described as the “game-within-the-game”, the draw in women’s lacrosse is its own craft. There’s a reason why schools hire full-time assistants to almost solely focus on the draw.

The players at Boston College spend countless hours studying tendencies, “tell-signs,” as Arsenault called it, of where they’re placing the ball, where they’re trying to direct the ball.

Then on the draw, Apuzzo and Arsenault (and also Elizabeth Miller, the other “circle girl”) have their own secret communications to indicate where to run to and where the ball is flying out toward. If the ball is leaning toward the other girl’s stick, Apuzzo lets her wings know, so they can adjust and try to intercept the win.

Maybe it’s a foot tap, maybe a head nod — who knows?, it’s secret — but before each draw, Apuzzo plays the role of the third-base coach and orchestrates the whole unit. From there, Arsenault’s athleticism is on full display. She has 102 draw controls this season, despite playing almost entirely off-ball for the draws. For a non-specialist, Arsenault’s total is spectacular.

Last week against Stony Brook, it seemed like whomever the Seawolves tried to line up against Arsenault — whether it was Samantha DiSalvo, Ally Kennedy or Mackenzie Burns — could not compete with the New Hampshire native’s combination of speed and length. Arsenault, who’s listed as 5-foot-8 but plays even taller, won nine draw controls herself in that quarterfinal game.

“Dempsey might be the best athlete we’ve ever had at Boston College,” Walker-Weinstein said in an interview before the season.

It’ll be up to Apuzzo and Arsenault to come through in the circle again on Friday night, when they face the No. 1 Maryland Terrapins in the NCAA Quarterfinals.

James Madison knows it’s the ‘underdog’ of the Women’s Lacrosse Final Four, but their players don’t care

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — When it comes to women’s lacrosse, James Madison has had a season for the ages. A win over North Carolina? Check. A season sweep over Towson for the CAA title? Check. A dominant quarterfinal win over Florida to clinch the school’s second-ever berth to the NCAA Final Four? Check and check.

But despite all this, there are still people doubting this Dukes team. James Madison comes from a mid-major conference, at an athletic department still just rising to prominence. Before the season they were pegged by Inside Lacrosse as the No. 17 team in the country. Heck, their All-American attacker was a walk-on.

The Dukes still seem to be… kind of… you know…

“An underdog? Yeah, we know,” star attacker Kristen Gaudian said at Thursday practice.

Gaudian, the aforementioned former walk-on, has proven herself to doubters plenty of times before. She didn’t even start until her junior season, and now she’s among the nation’s five Tewaaraton finalists. By now, Gaudian is keen to the underdog role, a role in which her team has found plenty of success this season.

Exhibit A: the February 9 win against the UNC team they’ll face in the quarterfinals. In a cold, rainy and windy season-opening overtime win, Gaudian scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals. The Dukes made a “statement,” as senior attacker Elena Romesburg succinctly said.

But James Madison, even with its 20 wins, half of which have come against tournament teams, is aware of the narrative.

Mid-major schools don’t win women’s lacrosse national titles.

And in the past it’s been true. If you consider the Ivy a major conference in lacrosse (most would), then no mid-major program has done it on the women’s side in 30 years (and given the landscape of the sport when Temple won in 1988, there weren’t really such things as “conferences” as we know them today). But JMU’s approach isn’t to look at that history. Instead, it’s “why not us?”

“It’s a great position to be in. People kind of look over the underdog,” Gaudian said. “We can totally capitalize on the fact that people don’t understand that we’re the real deal and we’re here to win a national championship just like everybody else.”

Whereas Maryland and North Carolina have established legacies for national greatness with each program’s championship histories, James Madison has to prove itself every season. Head coach Klaes-Bawcombe knew that this season’s team, with seven to eight seniors in the starting lineup, was one to make a run, and they have.

“James Madison is not one of those teams that just automatically gets put back into the top-10 or top-20 year after year,” head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said. “Every year, we have to earn our way into the ranking through consistent effort, game after game, after game.”

The Dukes made the quarterfinals by beating the Florida Gators, 11-8, in the lowest-scoring of the four games last weekend. It’s highly unlikely that the game with the Tar Heels will be so defensive, but James Madison has shown that it can win any type of lacrosse game.

On offense, the Dukes have four players with at least 60 points and seven with at least 25 points. They run deep.

While James Madison wasn’t on the Final Four radar of any self-proclaimed lacrosse experts before the season — myself included in that — did the players expect to be spending their Memorial Day Weekend in Stony Brook?

“Yes,” Gaudian said, without hesitation. “We knew that we had the talent, we knew that we had the mental resilience to make it here as well.”

The Dukes certainly have the tools. If they hang tough on the draws and get clean looks against UNC goalie Taylor Moreno, the ride may not be over just yet.

Taylor Moreno’s journey to the Women’s Lacrosse Final Four is one of patience and resilience

Originally published on SB Nation’s College Crosse

STONY BROOK N.Y. — Taylor Moreno was a Renaissance athlete in her days as a player at Long Island’s Huntington High School. She was an All-County soccer goalie, a great basketball player, a triple-jump champion and even the kicker for the Blue Devils football team. Yes, Moreno’s booming leg from the goal box at soccer practice made quite the impression on the Huntington football staff.

“It started out as a joke then it ended up becoming a real thing,” Moreno, who was Huntington’s first female football player, said. “That whole experience was awesome.”

But amazingly, before playing lacrosse for the North Carolina Tar Heels (a former “Blue Devil” playing in Chapel Hill… ironic, isn’t it?), Moreno never started a high school game.

Moreno’s sophomore and junior seasons, she was caught in a roster logjam behind Anna Tesorero, the current Stony Brook starter. To her chagrin, Moreno hardly saw any playing time in high school because of the circumstances. Neither did Fiona Geier, who’s now the starting goalie at American University.

“She and I just kind of accepted the fact that the way that things were weren’t really going to change,” Moreno recalled. “But I don’t take that experience for granted because I know it definitely turned me into the player I am today. I know what patience is and I know what it means to work your a** off to get where you want to be. “

Even though Moreno didn’t see much high school lacrosse action, head coach Jenny Levy saw enough of her to know she was a player she wanted as a Tar Heel. Levy had recruited Moreno through her club team, Team Elevate, and saw her in Florida at a IWLCA-sponsored event. Inside Lacrosse listed her as the No. 2 incoming freshman goalie in the country.

“As soon as we saw her, we were like, ‘Holy cow, that player’s very special.’,” Levy said in a teleconference earlier in the week.

But while Moreno had aspirations as a star, her left knee — time and time again — has had other ideas. Her high school senior season, she tore her ACL during basketball season. Then as a freshman at North Carolina, she tore her ACL again during fall ball. Moreno was forced to redshirt.

At last, Moreno saw action in goal in this season’s opener — a cold, rainy loss at JMU, whom UNC will face in the semifinals. In relief of Elise Hennessey, Moreno stopped nine of 17 shots on goal. Then two weeks later against Maryland, Moreno came off the bench with an all-world effort down the stretch to beat the Terrapins.

When UNC played Virginia, Moreno finally had the chance to start, and had her best game yet: just nine goals against, versus 17 saves made.

But just as Moreno seemed to make a full comeback, the old nemesis, the left knee, let her down again. Late in the first half against Northwestern, she sat down to the turf holding her left knee. This time, she was lucky though. It wasn’t the ACL, but the meniscus, more specifically, a bucket handle tear in her medial meniscus.

A surgeon cut it out, and after three weeks, Moreno was back on the field again.

“I kind of had to work myself back up,” she said, and she has. After playing the second half of two games, Moreno regained the starter’s role in the ACC Tournament semifinals and has been spectacular. In four playoff games as a starter, she has a .577 save percentage (which would have ranked first among all NCAA goalies this year). Remember, she put up these numbers against other elite, tournament-caliber teams.

“She’s been really great for us and somebody who just consistently sees the ball really well and as a competitor,” Levy said.

For Moreno, a Long Island girl, this weekend’s tournament is extra special, as she’ll have many friends and family members in attendance at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium to watch her play. It’s the same stadium where she watched teams raise NCAA trophies when she was in middle school, the same university at which she was born.

“It gives me butterflies in my stomach thinking about it,” Moreno said.

And throughout the national championship hoopla, what is the UNC goalie most excited about?

“I’m just looking forward to playing on the biggest stage of women’s lacrosse with 34 of my best friends.”

Zoe Belodeau the hero as Penn tops Penn State in wild 2OT thriller

Originally published at College Crosse

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Shadows crept across the LaValle Stadium field, as the game prolonged from mid-afternoon to evening. The grueling NCAA Tournament battle was deep in the second overtime. It was exhausting to just watch.

But somehow Penn sophomore goalie Mikaila Cheeseman was focused as ever. When Katie O’Donnell, Penn State’s star, raced toward the cage with 46 seconds to play in double-OT, Cheeseman was up for the task.

Throughout the week of prep, Cheeseman studied O’Donnell, the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year. She watched her release, her tendencies, her footwork.

With the game on the line, Cheeseman stabbed her stick to her left and saved the shot, her 13th of the game. But more importantly, she saved her team’s season.

“Every time she makes a save, I just stand there like ‘oh my God, she just did that,’” Penn freshman Zoe Belodeau said. “Then it takes me like five seconds to realize, ‘oh. It’s coming back now. I need to play offense.’”

Once Penn took offense, the Quakers called timeout and head coach Karin Corbett designed a play for Belodeau to become the hero. With 1.8 seconds left in double-OT, the first-year phenom sniped the biggest goal of her lacrosse life. Penn defeated Penn State, 15 to 14.

“She’s come through in every game for us,” Corbett said.

Belodeau’s golden goal was her fifth of the day and the 43rd of her freshman season. She passed the freshman goal total of another lefty who dazzles at LaValle Stadium. Make no mistake. On this day, Zoe Belodeau — from the game-winner, her ridiculous behind-the-back tally, even the eyeblack dripping from her cheek — seemed to mirror the superstar who calls the stadium her own: Kylie Ohlmiller.

Ohlmiller and the Seawolves sat in the background of Friday’s lacrosse showdown, scouting their next opponent from the far-side bleachers. Penn will play Stony Brook on Sunday at 12 p.m. Stony Brook is controversially ranked as a No. 5 seed in the tournament (Corbett thought that seeding was unfair to the Seawolves), but alas, the two schools have never met, and the Quakers are excited for an opportunity for the upset.

“I know they’re incredibly talented and can do some crazy things you’ve never seen before,” Belodeau said. “But I’m excited to see how we match up.”

Neither program, Penn nor Penn State, entered Friday’s meeting intimidated by the postseason atmosphere — the Quakers have made 12 straight NCAA Tournaments, while the Nittany Lions have made 7 straight — but it was certainly Penn State that had the more experienced offense. All three of the Nittany Lions’ key scoring options (O’Donnell, Madison Carter and Maria Auth) played critical roles when the team made a run to the Final Four in 2017. Penn State also made the Final Four in 2016. On the other hand, the Penn offense is very young; all three leading point-getters this season are underclassmen.

The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 4-2 in the first 15 minutes, with O’Donnell, Carter and Auth all scoring (they combined for 12 goals in the contest), but then the Quakers went on a 7-1 run to flip the scoreboard 9-5 in their favor. It was a rare Penn veteran, redshirt senior Emily Rogers-Healion, who drew the most excitement from the Quakers crowd.

She scored two goals and an assist in the first half, playing just a three-mile drive from Ward Melville, her high school alma mater.

“It’s really cool to come back to this field that I watched girls play college lacrosse on since I was like five,” Rogers-Healion said. “I went to the national championships (hosted by Stony Brook in 2011 and 2012), camps, all of it. I’m really blessed to be able to come back here.”

The Quakers took an 11-7 lead early in the second half, but Carter and O’Donnell clawed the Nittany Lions back into it. The duo combined for four goals over the next 20 minutes and O’Donnell tied it up at 13-13 with just over eight minutes to play.

Four minutes later, Belodeau buried one for the highlight reel… and also to give her team back the lead. Fellow freshman Elyse Decker cut through the lane and wasn’t open, but then Belodeau found the open space, caught a pass from Caroline Cummings and went behind her back with a quick flick of the wrist to give her team a 14-13 lead.


Penn State held a 43-28 shot advantage, but Cheeseman made up for it with elite goalkeeping for Penn. Finally, with 23 seconds left in regulation, O’Donnell broke through and brought the Nittany Lions within a 14-14 tie, but it was all for naught.

This was Belodeau’s night, and she seemed destined to be the hero.

“It’s pretty surreal,” she said. “Just being here and playing in this tournament is surreal as is. My dad and I and all of my friends have been watching NCAA Tournament games growing up. Just being a part of it was a surreal experience, let alone being part of a game-winning goal. It was pretty crazy.

Scores from the rest of the NCAA First Round action

  • Virginia Tech 13, Georgetown 10 — The Hokies secured their first NCAA Tournament win in program history and will go on to play #2 North Carolina on Sunday in the second round. Paige Petty and Tristan McGinley each had four goals in the win, while Meagh Graham recorded 10 saves.
  • #7 Towson 16, Wagner 6 — The Tigers scored early and often against the Seahawks, including an 8-0 run to run past Wagner, securing a trip to the second round. Kaitlyn Montalbano led the Tigers with four goals, while Emily Gillingham put up three goals and a pair of assists. Towson will face Northwestern in the second round.
  • Colorado 23, Jacksonville 18 — The Buffaloes emerged victorious from a wild scoring affair with the Dolphins. Darby Kiernan had a day with seven goals and five assists for a program record 12 points. Her seven goals in the win tied another program record. It was Colorado’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win. They’ll play #6 Florida on Sunday.
  • Princeton 12, Syracuse 11 (2OT) — Colby Chanenchuk scored the game-winner in her home city of Boston against Syracuse in a wild affair. The Orange had a huge second half comeback, using a 5-0 to take a one-goal lead with 6:57 left, but the Tigers were resilient. #4 Boston College awaits Princeton in the second round.
  • #8 Loyola 18, Fairfield 2 — The Greyhounds made quick work of the Stags behind four goals and two assists by Livy Rosenzweig. They also had two 7-0 runs to pretty much end the game early on. They’ll take on the Navy Midshipmen next.
  • Denver 19, High Point 10 — Denver earned a date with the #1 Maryland Terrapins on Sunday by virtue of beating High Point. The Pios pulled away from the Panthers by scoring 11 of the game’s final 14 goals. Quintin Hoch-Bullen had a game-high five points.
  • Northwestern 24, Richmond 18 — Goals, goals, goals. This game had a lot of them. Northwestern attacker Selena Lasota had nine, setting an all-time NCAA Tournament record, as the Wildcats will face #7 Towson in the second round.
  • Virginia 12, Stanford 3 — Goals? Not here. Not if you’re Stanford. The Cardinal offense struggled mightily against the Cavaliers, as Virginia earned the NCAA Tournament win. Rachel Vander Kolk stopped 14 shots for the win. They’ll face #3 James Madison in the second round.
  • Navy 16, Johns Hopkins 9 — After a trip to the Final Four in 2017, the Midshipmen are looking to do it again. They won against the Blue Jays in dominant fashion in the First Round thanks to Julia Collins and her six goals and one assist. They’ll face Loyola in a Patriot League rematch on Sunday.