Women’s lax battles top-ranked teams

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team finished an eight-day stretch of four games vs. ranked teams on Saturday, when the Panthers shut down visiting Amherst, 13-3.
Saturday’s result meant a 2-2 record in that gauntlet and a 7-2 record overall, 4-1 in NESCAC.
The losses — both in overtime, 11-10 at No. 8 Bowdoin on March 25 and 9-8 at No. 1 Franklin and Marshall on March 29 — cost the defending D-III champion Panthers their previous No. 1 ranking, as they landed at No. 4 in this Monday’s poll. Also in that run the Panthers rallied for a 6-4 victory at No. 2 The College of New Jersey on March 27.
Despite the overall positive results, Coach Kate Livesay said her team remains a work in progress — understandably after seven seniors who started in the 2016 NCAA final graduated.
In Saturday’s game vs. then No. 19 Amherst, the teams combined for 47 turnovers, 23 by the Panthers. Middlebury failed to clear its own end six times overall, and only nine of 14 clears were successful in the first half. 
Livesay afterward said the message to the Panthers was to keep plugging when things aren’t going smoothly.
“It was not perfect. That’s exactly what we told the team at the end. It was not perfect, but what we learned this week is we need to play with a lot of grit and a lot of desire,” she said. “And we can’t be frustrated when it’s not perfect. Because that’s just not who we are right now.”
Amherst (4-4, 1-3 NESCAC) also outshot the Panthers, 22-20, although that stat is misleading because the Panthers were getting better looks at the two Amherst goalies who combined for seven saves. Meanwhile, Middlebury defenders Evie Keating, Jessie Yorke, Delaina Smith and Alex White often forced rushed shots, although goalie Kate Furber numbered several terrific stops among her 13 saves. 
“She had a great game,” Livesay said. “I think the defense did a good job. I think they closed in on shooters and contested some shots, which I think helped Kate.”
The Panthers took charge on Saturday with four goals in the first 11:38. Henley Hall, from Mary O’Connell, scored in the first minute; Emma McDonagh notched the first of her four goals on a free position; O’Connell dodged in; and Bea Eppler finished the run with a McDonagh assist.
 Amherst’s Kate Wyeth picked up a turnover and went coast-to-coast at 14:03 to make it 4-1, and then for a long scoreless stretch the game was marked by physical play, tough defense, dropped balls and off-target passes.
The Panthers began again to penetrate the Amherst defense late in the half, and at 5:22 McDonagh drew a foul and whipped a free position high into the right side. With 12 seconds left in the half, she hit the lower left corner with another free position shot and it was 6-1.
The Panthers began to get more consistent looks against the Amherst defense in the second half. Hollis Perticone, who played a strong two-way game at midfield, drove to make it 8-1 3:41 into the half, and Eppler drove, drew a foul, and tossed in a free position about a minute later.
Julia Crerend and Claire Cagnassola scored for Amherst, with McDonagh’s final strike in between, making it 9-3 with 18:50 left.
Panther freshman Elsa Hermanson down the stretch scored three times and set up Georgia Carroll as the Panthers pulled away.
Perticone scooped a game-high four ground balls, while Keating caused three turnovers. Kate Furber added five ground balls to her 13 saves.
Livesay was happy with the more assertive offensive effort in the second half; she said it took a while for her young team to adjust to Amherst’s shifting defenses.
“It took us a little while in the first half to adapt,” she said. “They were more ready in the second half and they executed more sharply.”
But more work is needed.
“We do have to fix our turnovers. We’re going to take one win at a time, one game at a time, and just address things step by step,” Livesay said. “But this was a good win for us after the long spring break of three really tight games. We just needed to gain a little confidence today, and I think we did that.”
On the previous Wednesday, Franklin & Marshall’s Gabby Frank scored 45 seconds into overtime to lift her 8-1 team past Middlebury, 9-8.
That overtime game-winner thwarted a Panther rally from down by 5-2 at halftime; Middlebury outscored Franklin & Marshall by 6-3 after the break.
Franklin & Marshall took a 4-0 lead before Carroll netted a free position with 6:28 left in the half. Perticone made it 4-2 just 26 seconds later. Grace Norley’s second goal of the game at 0:15 gave F&M its 5-2 halftime lead.
Middlebury got three straight goals after the break: McDonagh buried a free position, Perticone scored unassisted, and O’Connell’s free position at 23:12 made it 5-5.
The Diplomats responded with goals from Norley and Natalie Delinsky to go back in front 7-5, but a Hall free position made it 7-6 at 8:02. F&M regained its two-goal lead, but Perticone and O’Connell goals forced overtime.
But the Diplomats controlled the overtime draw, and Frank netted the game-winner on a feed from Maddie Hughes.
Furber made four saves and grabbed five ground balls. Diplomat goalie Danielle Harrington made five stops. F&M held edges of 21-19 in shots and 10-9 in draw controls.
On Wednesday, Livesay thought Panther defenders misjudged when to be aggressive on the perimeter, at the expense of leaving attackers open in the fan, a balance they struck better vs. Amherst.
She believes defense and goaltending are team strengths, and the rest of the components should catch up.
“We do feel really good about our defense. That’s where our veterans are, and Kate is just becoming a real tough goalie,” Livesay said. “As we groom our offense and limit those turnovers and really start to move the ball, I think we’ll become a really exciting offense.”

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