Women’s lax falls in NESCAC final, still will host NCAA games

MIDDLEBURY — Third-seeded Tufts upset the top-seeded and undefeated host Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team in Sunday’s NESCAC title game, 9-8.

But the 17-1 Panthers on Monday still received a top seed for the NCAA Division III tournament. Middlebury will host Geneseo State (14-3) and St. Joseph’s of Maine (20-0); those two teams will square off on Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner will face the Panthers on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Middlebury, if it survives an unlikely upset bid this Sunday, appears to be in line to host an NCAA regional on May 20 and 21.

The Panthers’ Sunday setback at the hands of the 15-3 Jumbos snapped a 42-game winning streak for the program dating back to the 2019 season. The Jumbos had knocked off No. 2 seed Colby on Saturday, 10-7, by scoring the final five goals of the game.

In Sunday’s final the Jumbos took a 3-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Genna Gibbons in the second minute followed by two Margie Carden strikes. Niki Mormile made it 3-1 late in the period.

The Panthers clamped down defensively in the second period, allowing only two shots on goalie Gina Driscoll (six saves), both of which she stopped, and tying the game on free-position conversions by Grace Getman and Mormile. Tufts goalie Molly Laliberty, who made nine stops overall, made a couple acrobatic saves in the period.

Both teams scored twice in the third period, with Anna Clark and Carden finding the net for Tufts and Hope Shue, in a solo effort, and Anna Spehr, on a transition give-and-go with Kelcey Dion, answering for Middlebury. Susan Rowley caused a turnover in the defensive end and set up that play.

The Jumbos then scored three times to go on top in the third. Clarke and Carden converted within the offensive flow, and then Caroline Walter scooped up a ball the Panther defense had knocked loose in the fan and beat the shot clock to make it 8-5.

Shue and Erin Nicholas answered to make it 8-7, but Carden cut through the fan and converted a feed with 3:19 left to give the Jumbos a two-goal cushion.

Getman made it 9-8 with just under three minutes to go on a behind-the-net feed from Dion. Shue then had two free position chances in the final 17 seconds, but Laliberty made an outstanding kick save on one, and the other bounced just wide left.

The Panthers advanced to the final by defeating Wesleyan in Saturday’s semifinal, 16-6. They bolted to a 7-1 lead early in the second period and extended it to 11-2 by halftime. The 13-4 Cardinals had given the Panthers’ their toughest regular-season battle in a one-goal game at Wesleyan.

Olivia Lai gave the Cardinals a short-lived lead with the game’s first score, but Middlebury’s Jane Earley notched three first-period goals, and Getman, Shue and Rowley all scored in the quarter as Middlebury took a 6-1 lead.

Nicholas made it 7-1 early in the second, and after another Lai strike the Panthers closed out the half with goals from Earley, Mormile, Lily Riseberg and Shue to take charge.

Earley added an assist to her five goals, and Nicholas and Riseberg joined Shue in scoring two goals apiece. Driscoll made a career-high 12 saves, while two Cardinal goalies combined for six saves.

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