Sophomore Steph Colson scored with 2:57 left and Gettysburg rode out the remaining time after winning the final draw control to secure its second NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse championship with a 6-5 victory over top-ranked The College of New Jersey Sunday at Kerr Stadium on the campus of Roanoke College.
Gettysburg (21-3) earned its second national championship in its first appearance in the title game since 2011. The seventh-ranked Bullets avenged a one-goal regular season defeat at the hands of TCNJ (19-2) earlier in the season by netting the final two goals of the game following a four-goal run by the Lions.
"It was a hard-fought victory," said coach Carol Cantele. "Two exceptional teams giving it their all, battling to the final finish. I'm so proud of the fight that our players had and their hustle and heart."
Colson posted a pair of goals in the game and added a second national title to the family mantle with younger sister Lizzie helping the University of Maryland win the Division I title over Boston College on Sunday afternoon. The Gettysburg sophomore took care of business late in the game, completing a clear attempt and beating her defender with a strong charge to the cage.
"Sometimes when you're running down the field you just get tunnel vision and if you see one girl in front of you, you just have to take it," noted Colson, who was named NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
|Gettysburg athletics photo by Keith Lucas
Senior Emma Christie tallied two goals and senior goalie Shannon Keeler posted six saves and three ground balls. Keeler, senior attacker Caroline Jaeger and junior Cassie Smith were each named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team. Juniors Elizabeth Morrison, Amanda Muller and sophomore Abby Flagler were named to the team from TCNJ.
Gettysburg's second national crown did not come without its share of adversity. The Bullets carried a 4-1 lead into the break, but TCNJ did what great teams do in these situations by mounting a furious comeback. Mia Blackman kicked off a four-goal run with a free-position goal with 25:58 to play. Kathleen Jaeger, first-cousin to Gettysburg's Jaeger, tallied the game-tying goal with 17 minutes left. The defenses pitched a shutout over the next nine minutes before Kathleen Jaeger snuck through the defense and ripped a shot into the net to make it 5-4 with 8:34 left.
"We knew they're very good drivers and knew how to create opportunities for getting on the eight," noted Cantele. "You could also see that moment of where they said this is not happening. They're one of the most competitive teams we go up against year-in and year-out."
The Bullets, ever confident in their skills and abilities, did not fold under the pressure and it was a first-year that helped set the stage for a thrilling end. After Jaeger controlled the ball for Gettysburg, freshman Courtney Patterson found a seam in the defense and forced her way to the front of the cage for the equalizer with 7:36 to go.
"I think it speaks to their mentality all year," said Cantele. "They know the game isn't over until the final whistle blows. They've focused all season on being in the now and thinking strong and being fully present."
After getting beat 5-1 on draws in the first half, Gettysburg grabbed 6-of-7 draw controls in period two. The Bullets managed to grab the ensuing draw and ran two minutes off the clock before a turnover. The miscue didn't prove costly as junior Ali Gorab caused a turnover and Keeler recovered the ground ball.
That set the stage for Colson's late-game heroics in just her fifth game back from an injury that sidelined her seven weeks. Junior Katie Willis fought her way to the final draw control to seal the victory. Gettysburg's passing was pristine as the team evaded the last-ditch effort to regain possession by TCNJ.
"This is an absolute dream," said Keeler. "But it came with a lot of hard work and tears, and ups and downs, and adversity. I'm not that surprised because I knew this team was special. There's just some sort of chemistry that I'd never experienced before. Everyone was just so motivated by the same vision."
After beating Trinity (Conn.) 8-4 in the semifinals on Saturday, Gettysburg carried that momentum into its sequel with the Lions. The Bullets turned in the first two goals with Colson scoring the first unassisted and Christie the second on a free-position goal. Amanda Muller scored for TCNJ to make it 2-1, but Gettysburg shut down the Lions' attack as Keeler recorded five of her saves in the opening half.
"Our mindset just followed from yesterday," said Caroline Jaeger. "We just wanted to play exactly how we did when we were up yesterday. That second-half run against Trinity was big for us and we just tried to keep that same mindset going into today."
Christie tacked on another free-position score and Jaeger laced a free-position shot of her own into the goal to give Gettysburg a 4-1 leading heading into the break.
Following the game, Cantele was quick to point out the leadership of her five seniors – Christie, Jaeger, Keeler, Macauley Mikes and Katelyn Neillands. After the final horn sounded, the five seniors were among the first to grab the national trophy and hoist it high.
"They've been an outstanding group," said Cantele about her senior class. "They've all led in very different ways and different manners, which is outstanding because people respond differently to types of leadership."
Mikes finished with two ground balls and one caused turnover and wrapped up her collegiate career having appeared in a program-record 86 games. Neillands tallied one ground ball and a caused turnover.
Gettysburg tied the program record for victories in a season and shattered the program and conference record for goals against average at 4.78. Keeler finished with the lowest single-season GAA by a player at 5.00, while closing her career with a record 66 wins.
The Bullets defeated two No. 1 teams this season for the first time in program history. Gettysburg took out No. 1 Franklin & Marshall College 12-6 on April 5. The Orange and Blue only had one victory over a No. 1 team prior to 2017.
The team posed for a multitude of pictures after the game with tears and smiles aplenty among the players and staff members. It was a dream season for Gettysburg, and one that will not be forgotten any time soon.
"It couldn't happen to a greater group of individuals," said Cantele. "It couldn't have happened to a better institution. They've represented our institution so famously, with passion and energy. It was a great experience from start-to-finish."