Panther lacrosse grounds Cardinals

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team made its home debut in style on Saturday, breezing past NESCAC rival Wesleyan by a misleading final of 13-5 as the Panthers, ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division III, improved to 5-0 under first-year coach Kate Livesay.
That final result was misleading because Middlebury’s top players took a 7-0 lead in the first 12:15, during which Panthers’ high-pressure style forced six Wesleyan turnovers and stopped three Cardinal clearing attempts, their fast break scored three times, and they allowed just one shot on starting senior goalie Madeleine Kinker (two saves, one goal against in 30 minutes).
That’s no accident, said Livesay, the former Middlebury Union High School and Panther standout whose Trinity College lacrosse program became a national power before replaced longtime Panther coach Missy Foote.
Livesay wants this Panther team to use its quickness and depth to make opponents’ lives difficult.
“We have a lot of speed on our team, and some really feisty players. So we want to play on our strengths,” she said. “And know that we also have some depth, so we can go really hard and take rest. So that’s our style this year. We want to be really up-tempo, really take teams out of their comfort zone.”
After Kinker stopped an early bid from Wesleyan’s Meredith Smith, the Panthers went to work. Alli Sciarretta (a game-high four goals) scored the first goal 2:23 into the game on a transition feed from senior middie Chrissy Ritter (three goals and two assists). Middie Laurel Pascal then won the draw and set up Sciarretta 13 seconds later.
At 25:26, middie Claire Russell made it 3-0, taking a Ritter feed from the right side. Attacker Bea Eppler made it 4-0 at 24:25, assisted by attacker Mary O’Connell after a Cardinal turnover. At 22:49, senior attacker Bridget Instrum whipped home a free position, and at 21:29 Sciarretta netted an Instrum pass on the break. Sciarretta completed the opening surge at 17:45 with a solo effort.
Livesay spent much of the rest of the game tinkering with her lineup.
“The first half was good, and for us it was nice to have everyone on our team play and get stretched in different ways. So I thought it was a good experience for our full team and provided some good growth,” she said.
Ritter added a pair of goals before the break, cutting into the fan at 9:58 and converting a free position at 7:40. Wesleyan broke the ice at 1:07, when Martha Harding netted a feed from Dana Mitchell.
Ritter beat a double-team to make it 10-1 early in the second half, and Megan Griffin assisted Eppler and Russell to make it 12-1 at 16:10.
Wesleyan got two goals from Liana Mathias and one apiece from Abigail Horst and Harding against Panther freshman goalie Kate Furber (two saves in the second half), while Jenna McNicholas added the final Panther score. Goalie Nina Labovich made 13 saves for the 1-4 Cardinals.
Panther defenders Maggie Caputi, Delaina Smith and Jessie Yorke all played aggressively. Caputi, who led the Panthers with six ground balls and four caused turnovers, and middie Evie Keating took key roles in helping the Panthers clear their own end 18 times in 19 attempts. Middie Hollis Perticone led the Panthers with four draw controls.
Livesay remains pleased with the Panthers’ transition game, which she said feeds off their commitment to all-field defense. 
“When you are forcing turnovers and tiring teams out at one end, when you do win the ball you have some opportunities to expose them,” she said.  
The Panthers’ settled attack has at times lagged in productivity, Livesay said, but she believes it will catch up as the season progresses.
“I think we’re still just figuring out what our rotation is and what people’s roles are,” she said.
Overall, Livesay would have liked to see a little more out of her substitutes on Saturday, but she remains pleased with the big picture.
“I think we’re in a good place. We have really high expectations for them. Were we happy with the second half? Not really, but I think, again, it’s a half that provides people an opportunity to grow and be better and get some game experience,” Livesay said. “I like where we are because everybody’s playing a lot. I think we’re definitely doing a better job of putting teams under pressure in the defensive end. It’s a fun style.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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