Panther women’s lax heads to NCAA semifinal

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team is heading back to the NCAA Division III final four after winning three tournament home games, capped by Sunday’s 10-8 win over Rensselaer in a regional final in Middlebury.
The Panthers opened by crunching Castleton on May 15, 20-3, and then knocked off Endicott, 13-4, on Saturday as the regional opened.
Sunday’s victory moved Middlebury to 18-2 and earned the Panthers a rematch with Salisbury (20-0) on Saturday in Owings Mills, Md., site of this year’s final four. Salisbury defeated Middlebury in the 2012 semifinal round, 15-7, and the Panthers know it will be a battle against the No. 2 team in D-III.
After Sunday’s win, sophomore middie and Middlebury native Katie Ritter said Salisbury will be a challenge, but if the Panthers play their game they will hold their own.
“We have to just play Middlebury lacrosse,” said Ritter, who sparked Middlebury vs. RPI with a strong all-around game that included three goals and two assists. “We’ve been practicing these past couple weeks just trying to get our flow, trying to get movement on offense, trying to get communication on defense, trying to get in that mode where we … play together.”
Coach Missy Foote said defense and draw controls will be critical because Salisbury has a strong attack.
“We’re going to have to protect our crease on defense,” Foote said. “And we’re going to have to get the ball off the draw. That’s going to be key for us.”
She likes the Panthers’ chances.
“They play with a lot of heart, and we have a lot of the pieces we need to play a great game,” Foote said.
In Saturday’s other NCAA semifinal, undefeated No. 1 and defending champion Trinity, coached by Middlebury native Kate Perine Livesay, will meet SUNY-Cortland (21-1), also a rematch of a 2012 semi. The final is set for Sunday.
On this past Sunday, RPI’s methodical style, all-American goalie Allie Arnal (eight of her 12 saves in the first half), and ability to control the draw — the Engineers won eight of 12 in the first half — gave the Engineers a 6-5 lead at the break.
RPI led, 5-3, despite a Ritter goal that tied the game at 3-3, before goals by Ritter and attacker Ellen Halle made it 5-5 at 1:12.
But RPI’s Jamie Wakefield (two goals, two assists) went coast-to-coast after a late Arnal save to make it 6-5 at the half. RPI hit the corners well, as Panther goalie Alyssa Palomba failed to stop a first-half shot.
Two things changed after the break: Foote put Cornwall freshman Katie Mandigo in goal, and switched to a zone defense with a rover, sophomore Kate Butcher, to cover cutters along with low defenders Hannah Deoul, Neile Weeks and Heather Marrison. The shots became fewer in number and lower in quality, and Mandigo stopped two out of three after the break.
“We started getting stops on defense,” Ritter said. “They were getting feeds in the middle that shouldn’t have been there. So we really committed on getting our cutters, and it really came from our defense. And then we got going on offense.”
Still, RPI scored first after the break, when middie Shannon Maguire took a feed out front and whipped it home at 21:36. Arnal soon after stopped middie Michaela Colbert, but Panther Laurel Pascal stuffed her clearing attempt and tucked it into the empty net at 19:02 to make it 7-6.
Mandigo soon made the first Panther save of the game at the other end, and that triggered a fast break that ended with Ritter feeding Alice Pfeiffer to make it 7-7 at 16:15. RPI’s Alissa Peterson converted a free position to make it 8-7 at 13:14, but the Panthers won the next three draws — they scooped five of nine after the break as Colbert stepped in for the usually highly successful Cat Fowler in the circle — and scored the next three goals.
Ritter tied the game at 12:37 on a feed from Halle, and Emma Kramer (three goals) slipped through a seam in the defense to make it 9-8 at 11:42. The Tigers then patiently worked the clock for three minutes before Pascal converted a behind-the-net Ritter feed to make it 10-8.
There were anxious moments late when two Panthers were carded, but Mandigo, who earned her first career win, stopped the only shot on goal as the Panthers continued to cause turnovers and win ground balls. Foote singled out Margaret Souther, Pascal, Colbert and Ritter.
“We have some players that have that little extra go-to that found that go-to today,” she said.
Ritter said the Panthers knew what they had to do.
“We’ve always been a resilient team,” Ritter said. “I think we just kind of looked at each other and we said we have to make it happen … We showed a lot of heart today, I think.”
In Saturday’s 13-4 win over Endicott, Souther paced Middlebury with two goals and two assists, while Halle scored three. Ritter chipped in a goal and an assist, while seven others added a goal. Colbert and Marrison shared the team lead with three groundballs, while Fowler’s three draw controls were a team-high.
Endicott goalie Rachel Socolow made 17 saves, while Palomba did not record a stop for the Panthers. Endicott, which won its first-ever NCAA game earlier in the week, ended at 13-8.
On May 8, the Panthers took an 11-1 lead in the first 6:39 on the way to the 17-goal win over Castleton (10-8). Freshman Chrissy Ritter tied Liza Herzog for the team lead with three goals. Katie Ritter added two goals and two assists, and Halle, Pascal and Cat Lincoln scored two apiece.
Marrison had four ground balls and three caused turnovers. Palomba made two first-half saves, while Mandigo (two saves) and Madeleine Kinker split second-half duties. For CSC, Meghan Els made seven saves in 47 minutes, while Lily Derbyshire made three stops in 13 minutes.

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