Middlebury

Women's Lacrosse Looks For Eighth NESCAC Title

May 3, 2012

The 2012 NESCAC Women’s Lacrosse Championship continues this weekend at Sheppard Field on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., as the top-seeded and defending conference champion Bantams will join Amherst, Hamilton, and Middlebury this weekend in pursuit of the NESCAC title. Action gets underway this Saturday at 12:00 p.m. with the Bantams taking on the Continentals, and shortly following that semifinal will be the Panthers against the Lord Jeffs. The 2012 NESCAC Women’s Lacrosse Championship culminates on Sunday, May 6 at 12:00 p.m.

Top-seeded Trinity (14-1, 9-1 NESCAC) has steadily progressed into one of the premier teams in the conference. After making their first appearance in the championship game in 2008, the Bantams finished atop the NESCAC standings for the first time ever in 2010, only to be knocked out of the playoffs in the semifinals by eventual champion Williams. There was no stopping Trinity in 2011, though, as the Bantams recorded one of the most successful seasons in program history by going wire-to-wire through the conference schedule and winning the program’s first NESCAC crown over Colby, 7-1. This spring, the Bantams had their share of challenges in what progressed into a three-team race for the top spot in the league standings. Trinity delivered the first losses of the season to Colby (11-9) and Middlebury (13-9) en route to locking up the number-one seed following a hard-fought 8-7 decision over Hamilton, the Bantams’ semifinal opponent on Saturday. The only blemish on Trinity’s record came in the season finale on April 25, falling at home to Amherst 7-6. The Bantams wasted little time getting back on their feet, rolling into the semifinals for the fifth consecutive year with a 15-4 decision over Bates. Trinity ranks second in the conference in scoring offense at 12.6 goals per game thanks to the triple threat of Caite Irvine (Westwood, Mass.), Hadley Duncan (Rye, N.Y.), and Megan Leonhard (Summit, N.J.). Duncan is in the midst of a career year during her third season with the Bantams, amassing a team-best 45 goals (T-3rd NESCAC). Classmate Leonhard has 45 points on 39 goals and six assists, while the senior Irvine, an All-NESCAC First Team honoree in 2010, has tallied 38 goals and four assists.

While seventh-seeded Hamilton (7-9, 4-6 NESCAC) may be new to the NESCAC championship, the Continentals are a tournament-tested team looking to make their mark this weekend. Competing in the Liberty League prior to this spring, Hamilton won all five league titles from 2007-11 and had three consecutive runs to the national semifinals, winning the 2008 NCAA title during the stretch, the school’s first national championship. Suffering only 10 losses over the past five years, the 2012 campaign has been harsh for Hamilton, as the Continentals have dropped nine matches - seven by a margin of two goals or fewer. Entering the quarterfinals having lost its last three games, Hamilton sprung to life at Colby with a strong defensive effort in a 9-4 victory. The Continentals nearly handed Trinity its first setback of the season back on April 21, recovering from an early three-goal deficit for a 6-5 lead midway through the second half. The Bantams regained control with a three-goal burst over a two-minute span and held off a second comeback in an 8-7 decision. If Hamilton hopes to walk away with the NESCAC championship trophy on Sunday, then the offense will need to be firing on all cylinders. The Continentals are averaging a respectable 10.38 goals per game, yet they will be battling against three of the top four defenses in the league this weekend. Pacing the Hamilton offense has been junior Rachel Friedman (Fairfield, Conn.). Tied for fifth among all players with 50 points, Friedman has tallied 37 goals and assisted on 13 others through 16 games this season.

Back in the conference semifinals for the first time in three years is third-seeded Middlebury (11-3, 7-3 NESCAC). The NESCAC championship was once synonymous with the Panthers, who came away with the first seven conference crowns. The road to the title has been a lot tougher for Middlebury recently, though, as the Panthers have not hoisted the NESCAC trophy since the spring of 2007. After suffering back-to-back one-goal setbacks during the quarterfinals in each of the last two years, the Panthers looked like their old self with a hot start this spring, going unbeaten in their first nine games. Among the teams in the hunt to finish atop the NESCAC standings just weeks ago, Middlebury came up short in its final three conference outings, including a heartbreaking 15-14 triple-overtime loss at Williams to close out its schedule. The string of setbacks didn’t deter the Panthers in the quarterfinals, as they took a solid first step toward an eighth title with an 12-8 victory over Tufts. Middlebury heads into the weekend with one of the best combinations of offense and defense in the league, out-scoring foes by nearly six goals per game thanks to a top-rated attack (13.50) and a defense (7.63) that is second only to Amherst. Headlining a balanced Panther offense has been the consistent play of junior Margaret Souther (Scarsdale, N.Y.). Souther, one of five players to have scored 20-or-more goals for Middlebury this season, has a career-best 46 points with 27 goals and 19 assists, all team-leading figures. At the other end of the field, senior netminder Lily Nguyen (Oakland, Calif.) has kept opponents at bay, owning a 6.68 goals against average and a .477 save percentage, figures that put hear near the top of both categories in the conference.

In order for Middlebury to make a date for Sunday, it will have to get past one of its oldest postseason foes in the form of fourth-seeded Amherst (12-3, 7-3 NESCAC). Since falling by an 8-5 score to the Panthers back on April 7, the Lord Jeffs have been one of the hottest teams in the conference, winning each of their last six games. Amherst brought an end to Trinity’s 27-game regular season unbeaten streak in the final game before the postseason on April 25, holding off a late comeback from the Bantams in a 7-6 victory in Hartford. The Jeffs continued to roll along in the quarterfinals, edging out Bowdoin 9-7 to set up Saturday’s semifinal showdown with the Panthers. Over the first five years of the NESCAC championship, Amherst and Middlebury met in the finals every time, and in each meeting it was the top-seeded Panthers coming away with the win over the second-seeded Jeffs. The two teams have also clashed in the NCAA title game on three occasions, as Middlebury won its 1999 and 2001 national crowns over Amherst before the Jeffs returned the favor in 2003. Defense has been a strong suit for Amherst this spring, having allowed just 6.67 goals per game, a paltry figure that is lowest among league squads. Looking to bring the Jeffs not only back to the title game but also the program’s first NESCAC crown is junior goalkeeper Lamia Harik (Rye Brook, N.Y.). Harik (12-3) has played nearly every minute of every game in net, sporting a 6.50 goals against average (1st NESCAC) and a .464 save percentage (4th).

2012 NESCAC WOMEN’S LACROSSE CHAMPIONSHIP

Semifinals - Saturday, May 5 at Trinity
No. 7 Hamilton at No. 1 Trinity - 12:00 p.m.
No. 4 Amherst vs. No. 3 Middlebury - 2:30 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, May 6 at Trinity
Semifinal Winners - 12:00 p.m.

--courtesy NESCAC--

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