Local connection sparks Panther women’s lax to national title

PHILADELPHIA — The Middlebury women’s lacrosse team won its sixth NCAA Division III title and first since 2004 on Sunday, when the Panthers put the clamps on NESCAC rival Trinity in a final played a Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia, 9-5.
That victory followed the 22-1 Panthers’ convincing 16-11 win over top-seeded and undefeated Cortland State in Saturday’s semifinal.
A strong local connection helped the Panthers take the crown.
Cornwall native and senior goalie Katie Mandigo stopped 14 out of 25 shots vs. Cortland on Saturday and eight of 13 shots vs. Trinity on Sunday for a save percentage of .579 against top competition. Many of Mandigo’s stops were timely, and she also scooped a game-high five ground balls in each game and often left her crease to break up plays. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
Middlebury native and senior midfielder Chrissy Ritter was named to the all-tournament team largely for her defensive work at the top of the Panther zone, causing a game-high three turnovers each day. Ritter also scooped seven ground balls, scored a key goal vs. Cortland, contributed assists in each game, and was unstoppable clearing the ball from the defensive end.
And Coach Kate Livesay is a Middlebury native (and like Ritter a multi-sport all-star at Middlebury Union High School), a former Panther All-American defender who helped the lacrosse team win two NCAA titles, and now has won a championship in her first year leading the Panther program.
Livesay, who won an NCAA title and several NESCAC crowns at Trinity, assisted longtime Middlebury Coach Missy Foote a year ago before taking over this spring. Among her decisions was installing Mandigo as the team’s No. 1 goalie not long after Mandigo joined the team late because of her commitment to the women’s hockey program.
Both Ritter and Mandigo said they were glad to have Livesay follow another great coach. 
“We are so incredibly lucky to have Kate Livesay fill her shoes,” Ritter said. “They both are incredible coaches, but it was great to have Kate come back to Middlebury.”
Mandigo said a fresh perspective offered some benefits.
“She had a new set of eyes and that was something that definitely helped us in our senior year,” Mandigo said. “Obviously it worked well for us.”
After the final, Livesay credited the team’s seniors, and said the Panthers played to their potential.
“I am just really happy that we stayed focused and just stayed in the moment. We had such a great mental effort with most of it coming from our leadership,” Livesay said. “The nine seniors believed in that and had our team believing that we could do anything. It really helps when the talent is there, and we are very fortunate to have a talented group.”
To get to the final, the Panthers had to get past a 21-0 Cortland team that defeated them, 19-12, in a 2015 semifinal and was riding a 40-game winning streak. 
After Cortland scored 23 seconds into the game, a goal apiece by Bridget Instrum and Ritter, and two by senior middie Laurel Pascal made it 4-1, Panthers, at 22:54. But the Panthers went scoreless for more than 10 minutes, in part because of the Red Dragons’ 10-3 first-half edge in draw controls, and at 12:20 Cortland made it 4-4.
The Panthers called time, and gave the ball to Instrum. She beat a defender one-on-one to restore the lead, and at 3:39 made it 6-4 with another solo move. Cortland scored again, but senior attacker Alli Sciarretta picked up a loose ball outside the crease and scored at 0:00.2 to make it 7-5.
Livesay by then had already told sophomore middie Hollis Perticone to take the draws, and the Panthers won eight of 13 in the second half, a huge factor as they were already outplaying Cortland in other facets: They earned advantages of 43-32 in shots and 26-18 in ground balls.
 The Panthers went on a 3-0 run in just over three minutes to open the second half. Pascal scored after Ritter caused a turnover, junior attacker Mary O’Connell tallied, and senior attacker Megan Griffin made it 10-5.
The Panthers extended the lead to 16-9 with 11:12 to go. Cortland added two more goals, but could not break through. Eleven goals was a season low for Cortland. Panther defender Evie Keating caused three turnovers, and defender Alex White scooped five ground balls. The Panthers have defended well in the postseason despite losing key senior defender Maggie Caputi in game seven this spring; White replaced her in the lineup.
O’Connell led the Panthers with four goals and two assists, while Pascal and Instrum each scored four times. Sciarretta chipped in two goals and two assists.
Tara Monaghan paced Cortland with four goals to finish with 80 on the season, while goalie Jaclyn Beshlian made 14 saves.
On Sunday, Mandigo denied two early Trinity chances, one Abby McInerney’s low free-position bid, and the other Karly Simpson’s high shot.
The Panthers went on a 5-0 run over the final 16:32 of the half. Pascal bounced a free position home, her 50th goal of the spring, to make it 1-0, and Hollis Perticone made it 2-0 54 seconds later, taking a feed from O’Connell in traffic.
Perticone gave Middlebury a 3-0 lead at 4:26, running in from midfield and bouncing a shot in just under the crossbar.
The Panthers netted two goals in half’s final minute. First, Ritter intercepted a Bantam pass and moved the ball to the other end, where Instrum earned and converted a free position, and then at 0:09.9 Sciarretta couldn’t control a feed, but it bounced back to her off a Bantam stick, and she corralled it and fired home to make it 5-0.
Instrum made it 6-0 early in the second half to finish her season with 63 goals, second for a season at Middlebury. Trinity’s Clare Lyne scored the next two goals to make it 6-2 at 18:02 before goals from Pascal, who was also named to the all-tournament team, and Emma McDonagh made it 8-2 at 15:17.
Lyne scored again, but O’Connell scored from Ritter at 11:40 to make it 9-3, and Trinity could manage only two goals down the stretch.
Ritter said the Panthers were determined to win the title after coming up empty-handed a year ago.
“It is definitely a landmark getting to the final four,” she said. “But we weren’t going to just settle for making it to the championship.”

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