NESCAC women’s lax title goes to Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — The top-seeded Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team on Sunday rallied from a 7-4 second-half deficit to edge No. 2 Tufts, 10-9, and claim the program’s 10th NESCAC playoff championship.
Freshman Jane Earley sparked the Panthers with five goals and three assist, including four goals and an assist after Tufts went up by three goals five minutes into the second half. Senior Emma McDonagh scored the game-winner with 4:04 to go, and Erica Barr made a key defensive play in the final 10 seconds.
The Panthers improved to 17-1 and will host first and second round NCAA Division III games this weekend and then, assuming they get past a their second-round foe on Sunday, almost certainly host an NCAA Regional the following weekend. The winner of the NCAA Regional will earn a trip to the NCAA Final Four in Ashland, Va., on May 25 and 26. The Panthers most recently won the NCAA title in 2016 and reached the final a year ago.
This weekend, Johnson and Wales (16-4) and Morrisville State (14-5) will play on Saturday at 1 p.m., and the winner of that game will face the Panthers on Sunday at 1 p.m. William Smith (17-2), Illinois Wesleyan (17-2) and Franklin & Marshall (15-4) will be favored to advance to the Regional the following weekend at Middlebury.
Middlebury’s NESCAC title was the program’s 10th, and the seventh won by a team led by Panther Coach Kate Livesay, including four when she headed the Trinity program. Livesay is now tied with her former Middlebury College coach, Missy Foote, for most NESCAC playoff coaching titles. Foote won the first seven contested, between 2001 and 2007.
MEMBERS OF THE 2019 NESCAC Champion women’s lacrosse team from Middlebury College jump for joy upon receiving the plaque they had just won after defeating Tufts, 10-9, on Kohn Field Sunday afternoon. Photo by Benjy Renton/Middlebury Campus
On this past Sunday McDonagh gave the Panthers an early lead, but Tufts (16-2, with both losses to Middlebury) assigned its best defender to face-guard the Panther senior and limited her effectiveness. The teams traded goals for the first half, with Tufts getting two goals in the final 3:32, including Emily Games’s second, for a 5-4 lead at the break.
Tufts got two goals from Maddie Norman to stretch its lead to 7-4 at 25:01 of the second. Middlebury, especially Earley, then began to drive through the Tufts defense more effectively.
Earley drove toward the right post and drew two defenders before dishing to Kirsten Murphy to make it 7-5, and then went in alone and finished high to make it 7-6 at 22:46.
Tufts’ Catherine Lawless soon afterward made it 8-6 at 13:13 with the Panthers a player down after a yellow card, but Earley scored twice in the next three minutes. She drove to score one, and then converted a free position to tie the score at 10:25.
Tufts regained the lead at 8:17 when Annie Sullivan drove and found the left side of the net. Tufts switched to face-guarding Earley, but a foul gave the Panther freshman a free position she buried at 5:08. And McDonagh found room to maneuver, and after missing the net a couple times she broke loose again and found the lower right corner with her left hand for the game-winner.
Games had a chance to tie with 10 seconds to go after a Panther foul, but Barr checked the ball loose when Games tried to drive, and defender Emma White scooped the ground ball. The Panther defense and goalie Julia Keith (six saves) held an opponent to fewer than 10 goals for the 13th straight game. Casey O’Neill and Earley helped the Panthers control 13 of 21 draws. Two Tufts goalies combined for eight saves.

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