Women’s lax wins two more, now 7-0

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team recently added two more big wins, rolling past visiting NESCAC foe Bowdoin on Saturday, 20-9, before heading to Pennsylvania and defeating Dickinson, 12-7, on Tuesday.
The Panthers moved to 7-0 heading into a Wednesday game at Stevenson. They are the only undefeated team remaining in NESCAC, and they have moved up to No. 2 in the NCAA Division III coaches’ poll, trailing only unbeaten defending national champion Cortland State.
Middlebury’s most impressive stretch in those two games came early vs. No. 20 Bowdoin, 3-4 overall and 0-4 in NESCAC play: The Panthers blitzed Bowdoin with five goals in the first 4:04.
Mary O’Connell, who finished with a single-game program record of 13 points with nine goals (on nine shots) and four assists, figured in all of those goals. After the Panthers’ aggressive midfield defense forced a failed Bowdoin clear, middie Laurel Pascal fed O’Connell in transition at 1:32.
That strike was the first of five Panther goals in the next 2:32. The next three scores were almost identical. The Panthers won the draws and set up O’Connell behind the net. She circled counter-clockwise and found, in turn, Bridget Instrum, Hollis Perticone and Pascal at the far post. O’Connell then capped the run with a bullet into the upper-right corner at 25:56 after taking a feed from Perticone, who notched the fifth assist on as many Panther goals.
In all vs. Bowdoin, the Panthers racked up 14 assists from seven players, and six Panthers scored. Two of the goals came from senior captain and midfielder Chrissy Ritter, the former Middlebury Union High School standout, who led the team by causing three Bowdoin turnovers.
Ritter said two things really stood out to her about the Panthers’ effort on Saturday. One was their poise and confidence.
“The reason we played so well today is we were really relaxed and calm,” Ritter said.
The second was that the team’s settled offense was more effective than previously, more so than a week before when Middlebury scored 13 times vs. Wesleyan. After that game Coach Kate Livesay said that she would focus on that aspect of the Panthers’ play.
This past Saturday, Ritter noted the Panthers’ improved ball movement in settled situations.
   MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE JUNIOR Mary O’Connell set a Middlebury record Saturday with nine goals and four assists against the Polar Bears on Saturday.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
“On every possession on attack a new person was scoring and a new person was feeding. It was such a team effort,” Ritter said. “We worked a lot on settled offense this week. We worked on our motion, just keep the ball moving, keep the cuts moving, keep the ball hot.”
 After the opening Middlebury surge on Saturday, Polar Bear Emma Beecher sandwiched two goals around one by Panther Megan Griffin, that one set up by O’Connell. Then the Panthers went on a four-goal run to make it 10-2, with three goals from O’Connell and one from Instrum.  
With Livesay already subbing freely, Bowdoin’s Megan O’Connor scored twice to make it 10-4 at 12:22 of the first half. But the Panthers closed the half on a 5-2 run that included three O’Connell goals and two by Ritter. By halftime, it was 15-6.
In the Panther goal, Madeleine Kinker made three saves in the first half, while Kate Furber made five in the second half. For Bowdoin, O’Connor and Beecher each finished with three goals, and in goal Kayli Weiss made six saves in the first half and Erin Morrissey made one save afterward.
On top of O’Connell’s big day for Middlebury, Instrum finished with four goals and an assist, and Pascal added three goals and two assists.
Ritter said the Panthers were happy for O’Connell.
“She’s an incredible teammate, and we’re so excited for her,” she said.
Dickinson (3-3) proved to be more of a challenge. Red Devil goalie Tara Cuddihy (15 saves) played well between the pipes and roamed to pick off several passes, while the Dickinson defense held up well against the Panthers’ settled offense for much of the game.
But the Panthers still dominated possession and play, outshooting Dickinson, 39-12; winning the ground ball battle, 25-15; forcing 24 turnovers (Ritter caused a game-high four); and stopping seven Red Devil clearing attempts.
Again, six Panthers scored, including three each from Instrum and Alli Sciarretta and two each from Griffin and Pascal. And the settled offense responded when Dickinson made runs at Middlebury. After the Red Devils scored twice late in the first half to pull to within 5-3, the Panthers scored four times in the first 9:43 of the second half, two by Sciarretta, to make it 9-3.
When Dickinson pulled to within 9-6, the Panthers again answered, with O’Connell setting up settled goals by Pascal and Sciarretta and Pascal forcing a foul and converting a free position.
After the Bowdoin game, Ritter noted the team’s many offensive options.
“If you key on one player, you have two or three other players who could have two or three goals a game,” she said. “That’s definitely a huge advantage for us.”
In goal for the Panthers, Furber played the first half and allowed three goals without a save, while Kinker made one save and allowed four goals in the second half.
One downside was what looked on the video feed like a potentially serious injury to key defender Maggie Caputi, who went down late in the first half and stayed down for several minutes before being helped off.
On Saturday, Ritter also talked about Middlebury’s depth, which has helped the Panthers to play a high-pressure defensive style, but could be tested if Caputi is out.
“We’re subbing so much more,” she said. “We have like 15, 16 starters as opposed to 11, and I think that really contributes to the team dynamic.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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