May 16, 2013

WD3 Notebook: Familiar Matchups Set for Championship Weekend

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Trinity coach Kate Livesay and the Bantams' zone defense caught opponents off guard in last year's NCAA tournament. This year "our defense has probably improved," Livesay said.
© Jim O'Connor

The setting has shifted three hours to the southwest, but a familiar scene will play out at this weekend’s NCAA Division III final four, hosted at Stevenson in Owings Mills, Md.

All four teams return from last season, with the same matchups: Salisbury vs. Middlebury and Trinity vs. Cortland. Three of those teams are hoping for a series re-boot. One wouldn’t mind a sequel.

“We were just joking about it, ‘Deja vu,’” said Trinity coach Kate Livesay said. “Which, hopefully it is. We’ll embrace it if it goes down the same way. But these are the top four teams this year, you can’t deny that.”

You certainly can’t. Cortland has only lost to Salisbury. Middlebury has only to Trinity (twice). Trinity and Salisbury haven’t lost at all.

Each team might be better than they were at this point last year. Cortland graduated all-time great Lindsay Abbott, but Maria Di Fato is back and Erica Geremia is on her way to stardom. Salisbury returns Lauren Feusahrens and Kate Bollhorst and goalie Ashton Wheatley enters with another year of experience. Middlebury returns plenty, including a healthy Ellen Halle racking up scoring after struggling through an injury last year.

But it’s Trinity’s improvements that could decide the weekend. The Bantams’ zone defense caught everyone off guard in last year’s tournament and they held both Cortland and Salisbury to season-low scoring outputs.

Before the season, Livesay said that defense would need to evolve to stay effective. They have and somehow they’re even better. Trinity’s defense still takes teams out of their comfort zone, but with more pressure and deception than ever before.

“Our defense has probably improved,” Livesay said. “Which seemed like a tall task.”

Despite playing its season in the talent-rich NESCAC, and playing Middlebury twice, Trinity ranks third in Division III with a 5.45 goals against average. Salisbury ranks second, at 5.14.

Trinity has evolved on defense, but one aspect of the offense, finally, looks similar to last season. 

Star attack Kaitlin Hildenbrand made only 15 starts this season thanks to a high ankle sprain and Trinity played much of the NESCAC slate without her. Hildenbrand returned in a big way, in this weekend’s quarterfinal victory over Trinity with three goals and one assist as the Bantams eliminated 12-time NCAA champion TCNJ, 12-7.

On Saturday they’ll face a Cortland team that beat TCNJ earlier this season and just crushed Trinity’s league-mate Bowdoin, 14-4, holding the Polar Bears to their lowest scoring output since 2010.

“That score to us says, ‘Ok, Cortland’s good,’” Livesay said. “We don’t know as much about them as we know about other teams. I think our team embraces that. It helps them focus and be a little more on our toes because we don’t know exactly what to expect.”

The Bantams might not know what to expect from their opponent, but they know what to expect from the tournament experience.

“I think the difference is we go into this weekend with that little extra bit of confidence,” Livesay said. “Knowing exactly that we can go in there and we can be successful. It’s a little different than last year, we were so excited to be there, but there was a little bit of a question mark. ‘Can we really hang at this level?’ Now we know we can.”

Looking Ahead

Sometimes you need to look to the past to understand the future. Here’s a look back at last season’s final four, which was hosted by Montclair State:

2012 NCAA Division III Semifinal
Salisbury 15, Middlebury 7

Middlebury led 2-0 early but Salisbury never trailed after tying it 10 minutes into the game. Lauren Feusahrens led all players with five goals and three assists.

After the game, Middlebury coach Missy Foote said she would have been more patient against Salisbury’s pressure. The Panthers will get their chance this weekend. 

2012 NCAA Division III Semifinal
Trinity 7, Cortland 5

Trinity’s zone defense held Cortland to its lowest-scoring output of the season and each team managed just five shots on goal. Trinity also held Cortland star Lindsay Abbott to one goal in her final goal, but that goal put her in sole possession of the top spot on Division III’s all-time scoring list.

Cortland has lost just once since and has not skipped a beat as Maria DiFato and Erica Geremia have stepped up to fill the scoring void.

The next day, Trinity beat Salisbury, 8-7, to win its first championship. Hillenbrand scored to give Trinity the lead for good, 6-5, with 13:05 remaining.

Regional of Last Week - Middlebury, Vt.

Second Round, Saturday:
No. 3 Middlebury 13 , Endicott 4
No. 14 RPI 9, No. 5 Gettysburg 8
Quarterfinals, Sunday:
No. 4 Middlebury 10, No. 14 RPI 8

No top-15 team had as difficult of a path to the final four as RPI. The Engineers hosted a higher-ranked opponent, No. 12 St. John Fisher, in the first round and defeated the Cardinals 13-8. Then they headed north to Middlebury where Gettysburg and the host Panthers stood in the way of an unlikely trip to Stevenson.

Somehow RPI almost engineered the impossible.

On Saturday, RPI pulled off the biggest upset of the year, rallying from a two-goal halftime deficit to defeat Gettysburg, the 2011 NCAA champs, 9-8. Alissa Peterson’s third goal of the game delivered the game-winner with 2:48 remaining in regulation.

The next day, RPI led Middlebury 7-5 with 21:36 remaining and 8-7 with 13:14 remaining, but the Panthers rallied with three goals in the final 12:37 to pull off the victory and end RPI’s season. Middlebury made a switch at goalie after halftime, going with freshman Katie Mandigo who earned her first career win by allowing one goal and making two saves, including a final-minute free position shot.

Middlebury advances to its second straight final four where the Panthers will again meet Salisbury. RPI’s season ends with a program-best 16-4 record. Three of those losses came to NESCAC teams by a combined seven goals.

Game Balls

Shea Kusiak, Trinity: Kusiak, a junior from Longmeadow, Mass., had four goals, one assist, one ground ball and three caused turnovers as Trinity eliminated TCNJ 12-7, and reached its second consecutive Final Four on Sunday. Kusiak’s free position goal with 11:01 remaining in the first half gave the Bantams the lead for good, 6-5, in game that was tied at one, two, three, four and five.

Jessica Lavelle, Cortland: Lavelle, an All-American junior defender out of Fayetteville-Manlius (N.Y.) High School, had three ground balls and three caused turnovers as Cortland held Bowdoin to its lowest scoring output since 2010 in a 14-4 quarterfinal victory on Sunday. The day before, Cortland’s defense held Adrian to its lowest scoring total since since 2008, in a 21-3 victory.

Laura Maskell, Salisbury: Maskall, a sophomore from Ellicott City, Md., picked up two ground balls and three caused turnovers to lead a Sea Gull defense that held Franklin & Marshall to its lowest scoring output this season in an 8-6 quarterfinal victory on Sunday. On Saturday, Maskall had three ground balls, two caused turnovers and two draw controls as the Sea gulls held Christopher Newport, the second-highest scoring offense in Division III, to a season-low five goals.

Mark Macyk has covered NCAA Division II and III women’s lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine since 2011. He can be contacted at markmacyk@gmail.com.


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