May 22, 2010

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Hamilton, Salisbury Advance to NCAA D-III Final

by Paul Ohanian | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | NCAA D-III Semifinals Blog

Liz Rave and her Hamilton women's lacrosse teammates return to the NCAA Division III championship game Sunday against Salisbury.

GETTYSBURG, Pa. – Impressive semifinal victories by Hamilton and Salisbury on Saturday set the stage for Sunday’s NCAA Division III women's lacrosse championship game in which Hamilton will either claim its second title in three years or perennial runner-up Salisbury will capture its first crown.

Hamilton (21-0) claimed a 12-7 victory over defending champion Franklin & Marshall in the first semifinal, while three-time national runner-up Salisbury (20-1) advanced with a 20-12 win over host Gettysburg. Sunday’s championship game begins at 12-noon and will be televised live on CBS College Sports.

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The Continentals used a suffocating defense and an efficient offensive attack to dethrone the defending champions in the day’s opening contest. Hamilton, the 2008 national champion, established an early 6-1 lead and never trailed while earning it second trip to the national championship game.

“We tried to take it to them in the first 10 minutes,” said senior goalie Kate Fowler, who finished with five saves. “I think we did just that and it gave us a lot of confidence.”

Five different players contributed goals to build the early lead for Hamilton. Freshman Rachel Friedman tallied twice on unassisted markers during that run.

“I was a little shocked that we were able to do that to them,” said Friedman, who transferred to Hamilton prior to the spring semester after starting her college career at Boston University.

Back-to-back goals by F&M’s Blake Hargest and Cat Serpe briefly stemmed the tide, but two goals by Audrey Nebergall to close the half pushed Hamilton’s lead to 8-3 at the break and left the Diplomats facing their second largest deficit of the season.

Halftime did little to change the flow of the game. Goals by Anne Graveley and Liz Rave just 36 seconds apart pushed Hamilton’s advantage to 10-3 at the 26:03 mark. Meanwhile, the Continental defense continued to frustrate F&M, which repeatedly forced passes into the arc without success. F&M finished the game with 21 turnovers, its second highest total of the season.

“Hamilton executed all over the field today,” said F&M head coach Lauren Paul. “There were no surprises; they just did it very well.”

Graveley, Friedman and Nebergall each finished with two goals to lead Hamilton’s offense. Junior midfielder Sarah Bray added one goal and two assists and earned a chance to play against her sister Carrie, a sophomore for Salisbury, in Sunday’s final.

“It’s a lot of pressure but it’s really exciting,” said Sarah Bray about Sunday’s final. “We’re having fun and we’re ready to go.”

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Led by a well-balanced scoring attack, the Sea Gulls dominated the second half to pull away from Gettysburg and earn their fourth trip in six years to the championship game. Leading 11-9 at halftime, Salisbury outscored the Bullets 9-3 in the final 30 minutes while reaching the 20-goal mark for the 10th time this season.

Sophomore Allie Wheatley and junior Aileen McCausland both tied their career-highs with five goals apiece, while seniors Jessica Chmielewski and Kim Cudmore each tallied six assists. Nineteen of the Gulls' 20 goals were assisted.

“When we slow it down on offense and look for that open cutter, that’s how we get our goals,” said Cudmore, who pushed her season total to 56 assists.  “We have so many people that can score and can assist. It just makes it hard to defend.”

The high-scoring first half featured six ties and four lead changes, with neither team leading by more than two goals. Head coach Jim Nestor said that the Gulls made few adjustments at halftime.

“We thought we were playing well and we just needed to play tough defense,” said Nestor. “In that second half, we got some really good looks and put the ball away. I would never expect that we would score 20 against their defense, but we practiced against the zone all week and the girls executed very well.”

As for the tough defense, junior goalie Julie Ann Caulfield was happy to oblige, finishing with a career-high of 11 saves.

“I wasn’t thinking about much except about how hard my teammates were working,” said Caulfield. “I think the defense played awesome, and getting a few stops helped a lot.”

McCausland scored four of her five goals in the first half, then gave way to Wheatley, who tallied four times in the second half. Wheatley had two goals and an assist as the Sea Gulls opened the second half with three straight goals to seize control.

“We just knew that every possession was important” said Wheatley, who could feel the momentum change. “We just got pumped up. You can feel the difference when one team gets a shift in goals.”

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Salisbury and Hamilton don’t have a long history against each other, with just three prior meetings, but they have found a spot on each other’s dance card in each of the past two seasons.

Hamilton defeated Salisbury, 11-10, in the 2008 national semifinal en route to capturing the school’s first title. Salisbury posted a 12-9 regular season victory over the Continentals in 2009.

Nestor said the game plan is pretty easy to figure out for his team.

“I think we just need to play the way we did today, with a well-balanced offense, with quality clears so we can have the opportunities on offense, and defensively, shutting down their top guns,” he said.

That may be easier said than done. Hamilton was in complete control for most of Saturday’s semifinal, exhibiting great offensive efficiency as well as a smart and effective defensive scheme. Led by Fowler in goal, the Continentals boast the nation’s stingiest defense, allowing just 5.85 goals per game.

The offense features nine players with at least 20 points on the season, led by All-Liberty League first teamer Sarah Bray. The junior added to her season record for assists with two more helpers on Saturday, bringing her 2010 total to 75 assists.

“I know everybody thinks that we haven’t played a lot of people that are good teams,” said Hamilton head coach Patty Kloidt. “But the Liberty League is always a competitive conference and we ran into a couple of good teams from the Empire 8. We just show up and play Hamilton lacrosse and do what we do well and figure out a game plan that takes away what the other team does well.”

One of those things will be Salisbury’s explosiveness on offense, which was on full display in Saturday’s win over Gettysburg. The Gulls had five players finish with six points or better.

The big stage will be nothing new for either team, as both have become staples on championship weekend.

Salisbury has finished as the national runner-up three times in the past five years and has been Division III’s winningest team during that span, but has no titles to show for its dominance.

Despite that fact, Nestor says there’s no added pressure on this year’s players to finally break through.

“The alumni feel it more than these players,” said Nestor. “We’ve always played well, we’ve just come up a little bit short.”

Perhaps the best evaluation came from Franklin & Marshall’s Lauren Paul. “I think there are four amazing teams here and it’s anybody’s championship,” she said.

Actually, with F&M and Gettysburg now eliminated, it will be either Hamilton’s second championship or Salisbury’s first.


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