Lacrosse, Top Story, Spring

For Second Year in a Row, Eagles Come Up Short in National Championship Game

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Boston College lacrosse has one of the best attackers in the sport and the 11th-ranked offense in the country. With seven 20-plus goal scorers, including a trio of players that have accumulated 80 or more points this season, the team has the ability to rattle off goals at will. In fact, in Sunday’s National Championship, fourth-seeded BC strung together a pair of 4-0 runs.

When it really mattered, though, James Madison—a group that entered the year ranked 17th in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll—shut down the Eagles. Amid the second half, the third-seeded Dukes held BC to just one goal over the course of 21 minutes and 19 seconds. During that span, JMU turned a two-goal deficit into a three-score advantage, leaving the Eagles five minutes and change to orchestrate a miraculous comeback.

BC went down swinging, finding the back of the net on three separate occasions before the final horn. The only problem was, the Dukes had an answer for just about every one of the Eagles’ scoring plays. Most notably, Haley Warden—the Most Outstanding Player of this year’s NCAA Tournament—notched an unassisted goal to give JMU a two-score cushion with 65 seconds remaining. Tess Chandler cut the BC deficit to one, but the Dukes won the final draw that sealed the 16-15 nail-biting victory, as well as their first-ever national title.

The opening 16 minutes of the first half were nearly identical to that of the Eagles’ (22-2, 7-0 Atlantic Coast) semifinal matchup against top-seeded Maryland. JMU (22-1, 6-0 Colonial Athletic)—hot off its three-goal victory over North Carolina on Friday—wasted no time on the attack.

In fact, it only took the Dukes 17 seconds to score the game’s first goal. Coming into the day, all of the attention was on Tewaaraton Award finalist Kristen Gaudian, who logged a hat trick against the Tar Heels, but it was Hanna Haven who jumpstarted the Dukes’ offense. The junior attacker blew by Elizabeth Miller on two of JMU’s first three possessions, scoring back-to-back goals to hand the Dukes a two-score advantage less than five minutes into the contest.

Dempsey Arsenault ended the Eagles’ drought, but the scoring play hardly fazed head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe’s team. Goalie Molly Dougherty immediately settled back in, recording her third save of the game, and Morgan Hardt used a pair of fakes to get her defenders to bite on two-straight possessions—both of which ended in goals. The game’s first media timeout couldn’t have come at a better time for BC head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein.

Down, 4-1, the sixth-year coach was given the chance to not only make in-game adjustments, but also the opportunity to send a message before the contest got out of hand.

“I think we just had to settle into a little bit of a groove, which is exactly what the girls did,” Walker-Weinstein said. “They did a really nice job of that, which I think is what helped us climb back in.”

Soon enough, the Eagles scored. After drawing a foul, Taylor Walker recorded a backhand, free-position goal that marked the start of a momentum-shifting 4-0 BC run. Forty-two seconds later, Walker dialed up a perfect pass to a cutting Sam Apuzzo for the junior’s first scoring play of the afternoon.

It wasn’t long before Apuzzo—who ended up recording a game-high seven points—returned the favor, locating Cara Urbank, who promptly infiltrated the eight. The sophomore danced along the crease line, patiently faking out both Caroline Sdanowich and Dougherty prior to tying the game at four. Following a JMU foul, Chandler capped off the scoring spurt, courtesy of a Kaileen Hart assist. All of a sudden, the Eagles had the lead—one that was short-lived at best.

The Dukes responded with a scoring spree of their own, in large part thanks to Katie Kerrigan and Elena Romesburg. Kerrigan connected with her senior midfielder to create two-consecutive goal-scoring opportunities. Romesburg cashed in, scoring a pair of goals to retake the lead. Gaudian, despite being heavily faceguarded, wrapped up the stretch with a near-post goal to put JMU up, 7-5. Right on cue, BC answered by scoring three of the period’s final four goals—including the final two of the half—to enter intermission with the game tied at eight.

As soon as the second half began, Walker-Weinstein’s team picked up right where it left off. Emma Schurr faked out Dougherty and netted her first goal of the game on what was essentially an empty cage. About a minute later, Chandler, who finished with a team-high four goals, scored off a free-position attempt. Going back to the end of the first period, the Eagles had logged four goals in a row and looked as if they were primed for more.

Haven became the first of three JMU players to record a hat trick, bouncing a shot past Lauren Daly to make it a one-goal game. But that’s not what turned the tables—a Corrine Schmidt yellow card, however, did. The senior defender and Long Island native was issued her second yellow card of the contest when she checked Urbank in the head with a bit less than 25 minutes left in the second half, effectively disqualifying her from the game.

As soon as Schmidt reached the sideline, she started crying. The reality that she wouldn’t get to finish off the National Championship began to set in. Her teammates and coaches took note—they played the final portion of the game for her and the program as a whole.

“From that moment in the game, things changed for JMU,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “That’s when we took our run, and that’s when we took charge of the game.”

The Dukes scored five of the contest’s next six goals, all while silencing the Eagles’ attack. JMU’s zone defense collapsed on BC’s stars, time and time again, continuously wreaking havoc on that side of the field. But the Dukes don’t deserve all of the credit for the defensive stand: The Eagles repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.

“The type of zone that they play, they sort of bait you into thinking the middle is open, and we made some of those mistakes and fell for that,” Walker-Weinstein said.

BC turned the ball over eight times in the first 15 minutes of the second period. By the time the Eagles finally closed the gap to two goals, there were only five minutes and nine seconds left on the clock. Apuzzo, Hart, Chandler—three of BC’s top four scorers—and Walker found the back of the net in the waning minutes of play, but the Eagles could never tie the game—not with Gaudian and Warden still lighting up the scoreboard.

The ACC regular season champions drew within one goal of JMU three times—the last of which came with just 22 seconds remaining in the contest. But as soon as Warden beat out Apuzzo for the last draw control of the day, the game was practically over.

“I can remember Hanna got the ball, and I was like, ‘Just run, just run!,’” Warden said.

That’s exactly what Haven did. Hesitating after every few steps, the junior attacker straddled the left sideline and ultimately chucked the ball across the field as the clock ticked zero. The purple and white streamers fell from the air and “Who Let the Dogs Out” blasted from the PA system as the entire JMU team swarmed the middle of the field.

For the second-straight year, Walker-Weinstein and her team—the best in program history—had to walk out of the title game knowing that they came so close to making history themselves.

“I think I would probably put in the exact same gameplan if we had a second chance at it—but we don’t have one,” Walker-Weinstein said. “I wish that I had prepared them better.”

Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Editor

May 27, 2018