SALEM, Va. – It took a day of waiting out thunderstorms, but when the opening draw finally took place in the 2018 NCAA Division III women's lacrosse championship, lightning managed to strike twice as third-ranked Gettysburg took down No. 4 Middlebury 11-9 to capture its second conecutive national title at Kerr Stadium on the campus of Roanoke College.
Gettysburg (21-2) became just the fourth Division III program to repeat as national champion and it came exactly 365 days after its 2017 title. The institution is also just one of five D3 schools to claim at least three national titles joining TCNJ (12), Middlebury (6), Salisbury (3), and Ursinus (3). The Bullets won their first NCAA title in 2011.
"They were bold enough in the beginning of the year to say let's do that again and when you make that commitment it comes with a whole lot of work and a whole lot of sacrifice and a whole lot of unselfishness," said coach Carol Cantele '83, who has led Gettysburg to all three of its NCAA championships.
Junior Steph Colson (Westminster, Md./Manchester Valley) was named Most Outstanding Performer of the NCAA Division III championship for the second straight season. Colson posted one goal, three assists, three ground balls, a caused turnover, and nine draw controls in Monday's title game. She tallied a total of 18 draw controls in the semifinals and championship and extended her program and conference season record to 140.
Sophomore Liza Barr (Medford, N.J./Shawnee) led the offense with a career-high five goals. Senior Katie Willis (Baltimore, Md./Notre Dame Prep) posted a pair of goals, while freshman Kerry McKeever (Stony Brook, N.Y./Ward Melville) tallied a goal and an assist.
Junior Bailey Pilder (New Canaan, Conn./New Canaan) recorded a dozen saves, two ground balls, and a caused turnover. Senior Cassie Smith (Phoenix, Md./St. Paul's School for Girls) recorded four ground balls and two caused turnovers.
Barr, Pilder, and Smith joined Colson on the all-tournament team. Smith landed a spot on the squad for the second year in a row.
"I'm so incredibly proud of the seniors and what they accomplished this year," said Pilder. "I'm going to miss them so much next year. I think as a group we're an amazing new team this year and we had our own dream."
Emma McDonagh led Middlebury (20-3) with three goals and one assist. Kirsten Murphy tossed in two goals and passed out an assist, while Casey O'Neill tallied a pair of goals. Goalie Kate Furber logged five saves.
After beating Salisbury 12-7 in Saturday's semifinal, Gettysburg was forced to wait an extra day to defend its national championship. Sunday featured incessant thunderstorms in the area and after multiple delays, the game was pushed back to Monday morning.
Despite the postponement, both teams were ready to excite the crowd with a thrilling national championship game. The Bullets struck first as Pilder set the tone defensively with a save on a shot by Hollis Perticone and the offense answered on the other end. Colson fed the ball into Barr for the game's first tally just over two minutes in.
Middlebury, which beat top-ranked TCNJ 13-9 in the semis, came right back with goals by McDonagh and Casey O'Neill to seize a 2-1 lead.
"We knew they were going to be good," said Smith. "For us it was about sticking to fundamentals. We just had to get our bodies and sticks up and just believe."
Gettysburg roared back with four of the next five goals. Barr and Colson put the Bullets back in front and following a temporary 3-3 tie, McKeever and sophomore Courtney Patterson (Whitehouse Station, N.J./Hunterdon Central Regional) made it a 5-3 advantage with 16:13 remaining in the opening half of play.
The Panthers didn't let the margin grow any more in the first period as O'Neill found a seam past Pilder and then Kirsten Murphy tallied a game-tying goal. Pilder prevented more first-half damage with a pair of saves on back-to-back Middlebury possessions.
Gettysburg strolled into the break with the lead thanks to Barr, who fielded a pass from McKeever and fired it home for a 6-5 advantage.
Barr's final first-half tally was the start of a momentum-changing run in the game. Gettysburg went on to score six of seven goals beginning with that shot.
"They were playing a backer so the goal was to move it quick twice and then cross it over," said Colson. "I think we did that as best we could. We fed it to the middle a couple times, got a few eight-meters, and capitalized on that. I think we broke their defense down and that was great."
The goalies combined for five saves in the opening seven minutes of the final stanza, but eventually the Bullets' relentless attack started the find openings. A failed clear by Middlebury led to a quick run up the field by Colson who dished it off to Willis for a score with 22:46 left.
"Our attack loves when they are able to stop a clear and that's hard to do against a team like Middlebury," noted Cantele. "I think that may have put a little more jump in our step."
Less than a minute later, junior Lauren Cole (Madison, Conn./Daniel Hand) tossed in a free-position goal to make it an 8-5 lead.
Middlebury stemmed the tide with a goal by Georgie Carroll at 19:16, but Gettysburg's defense shut out the Panthers over the next 12 minutes, enabling the offense to go on a three-goal run.
"Defensively, it was all about trust," said Smith. "We trust Bailey in the goal. She's fantastic. We never had doubt and we always believed. We knew they were going to come back fighting and we just had to come back with that same intensity."
A free-position goal by Willis and a pair of scores by Barr gave the Bullets what seemed an insurmountable 11-6 lead with 13:17 to go. But Middlebury was far from done and Gettysburg knew it still had a fight in store to capture the championship.
McDonagh produced back-to-back goals before another tally by Murphy sliced the deficit to just two (11-9) with only 4:09 on the clock. On the ensuing draw, Colson swooped in for the ball and Gettysburg ran off a minute before turning the ball over.
Getman's last shot was stopped by Pilder and Gettysburg quickly cleared it up the field with just over two minutes to play. Cantele called one final time out to discuss the game plan with her team heading into the final minutes.
"We knew that if we maintained possession they wouldn't have another opportunity to go down to the goal," said the coach. "Our communication during the time out was just let the ball move around and throw it stick to stick. If they're coming at you, just run away from the pressure. Keep the ball in our offensive third of the field."
The Bullets did just that, avoiding the pressure of the Panthers and running out the final seconds. The players on the sidelines rushed the field and the team hoisted the NCAA trophy high above the turf at Kerr Stadium once again.
"I'm still kind of in shock," said Colson in the moments after the final horn. "It's amazing. The last five seconds I was just like we did it, we did it again. I'm so excited. I had no doubt in my mind that we'd be back here."
"These are my girls," noted Smith. "This is a family. We do this for each other. We did it as one unit today. Attack, defense, no matter what, we were one today and that was just huge. I couldn't ask for anything better and I couldn't ask for a better set of girls to do it with either."
Gettysburg tied its single-season record for victories. The Bullets also made it a clean sweep of conference and national titles after claiming the Centennial Conference championship in early May, a feat the team was unable to accomplish in 2011 and 2017.
Gettysburg's seven seniors – Willis, Smith, Ali Gorab (Southport, Conn./Ludlowe), Katie Landry (Hingham, Mass./Hingham), Maggie McClain (Wexford, Pa./Sewickley Academy), Elsie Wagner (Berwyn, Pa./Conestoga), and Maggie Welsh (Rye, N.Y./Holy Child) – leave campus with more wins as a group (76) than any graduating class in program history.
Mere minutes after completing the championship run, Cantele cited the influence of former athletic trainer Kerry Garrett on the team this season. Garrett passed away last November following a lengthy fight with a rare former of cancer called cholangiocarcinoma. She had received her 2017 NCAA Championship ring not long before her passing.
"I felt like today they definitely lived like Kerry," said Cantele. "They were positive, they were fearless, and they were optimistic. That's a great way to finish knowing they left it all out on the field."