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May 10, 2010

 

Cortland women surge for 12th straight crown

LacrosseJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Brockport’s Niki Frunzi (21) takes a swipe at the ball as SUNY Cortland’s Nick Mahoney (14) ducks under her stick in Saturday’s conference playoff title game.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

This has turned into an annual lacrosse habit for SUNY Cortland women, winning a conference playoff championship.
That trend carried on Saturday afternoon when the Red Dragons also continued a pleasant recent habit of solid second half performances, this time around turning a tough tussle with second-seed Brockport into a relatively easy 10-4 victory in the SUNY Athletic Conference title game.
It was the 12th consecutive conference crown for Cortland.
A simple halftime reminder by second year head coach Kathy Taylor triggered this domination over the final 30 minutes of play on the Red Dragons’ wind-swept Stadium Complex home turf, where the hosts scored the game’s final five goals to win going away. The victory earned the squad a return trip into NCAA Division III tournament.
“We came out in this game wanting to take care of the ball, really respect possession,” said Coach Taylor after nationally sixth-ranked Cortland improved to 16-2 and remained unbeaten against SUNYAC opposition this spring. “It’s a great team we played with a very good offense, and we knew we had to respect possession.
“And I think in the first half we didn’t do that as well as we should have,” she added. “So at halftime, honestly, we just revisited our initial game plan of respecting possession, dominate on the draw and certainly if we had turnovers just riding the ball fearlessly until we got it back.”
Though sophomore Lindsay Abbott scored four times to go along with an assist, while MVP Maria Di Fato added a couple of goals and a two assists during that large surge, turning the ball over 23 times helped lead to Brockport’s demise.
The Golden Eagles, who won a wild 20-15 shootout over Buffalo State the previous day in the semfinals, had a 3-2 lead in the opening half and was within 5-4 in the second stanza before going scoreless over the final 22 minutes.
“We just made too many mistakes transitioning the ball,” said Brockport coach Linda Michelle. “You can’t make those mistakes against Cortland, and we knew that coming in, that we had to take care of the ball.”
Carly Montondo scored for Brockport with 21:53 left to play, Sarah Brown finding her cutting teammate with the pass, to get her team within 5-4.
Just over a minute later Di Fato was speeding past two defenders and scoring and Cortland began pulling away. Jess Fritz fed Abbott for a goal in front at 17:13, senior Nicki Mahoney was another cutter rewarded by a Di Fato pass and scored at 14:02 and Di Fato converted a free position scoring chance at 10:53.
A breakaway goal by Fritz with 3:56 remaining finished the Cortland scoring spurt.
“OH YEAH, IN the beginning, definitely,” said Di Fato when asked if there was some early frustration caused by Brockport’s patience on offense and the 10 stellar first half saves made by Golden Eagles goalie Jamie Kaminsky.
“I think it was all nerves because we’ve won this like 11 years in a row, so there’s a lot of pressure on us,“ she added. “So I think we got nervous at first. At halftime our coach told us to calm down. If we lose we’re out if it, so that kind of brought us back in.”
Finally getting some shots past Kaminsky also helped the Red Dragons.
“I thought that their goalie had a very good first half,” said Taylor of Kaminsky. “I felt like we were taking some poor shots and their goalie had some nice saves, too.”
Deciding to double-team the ball when Brockport was trying to slow things down on offense also helped turn things around, creating a tempo that favored Cortland’s athletic advantages.
“We were suppose to be doing more of that in the first half, but I think there was a healthy respect for their shooters and we were kind of hesitating on that,” said Coach Taylor. “Our goal was to push the tempo and really put a lot of pressure on them. Not to necessarily get the ball back, but to get them to turn it over.”
That worked out well. After grabbing 4-3 first half lead when Kelly Radigan scored the final two goals of the opening stanza, the Red Dragons never trailed.
Nicki Mahoney, who had five goals in Friday’s semifinal win over Geneseo, netted a first half goal for Cortland, while Fritz finished with a pair of assists. Cortland held a 28-14 shot edge, freshman goalie Ally Levy finishing with seven saves.
“WE’VE WORKED really hard on our fitness and it’s really paid off for us in the second half of the season,” said Coach Taylor, a prime example being overcoming a one-goal halftime deficit to upset The College of New Jersey the previous weekend to close out the regular season. “As a coach it’s good to go into the locker room and you know you have a good team who plays well in the second half when it’s close.”
Brockport, which has Homer Central product Cally Weddle on its roster, falls to 12-3 with its second loss to Cortland.
“These girls have a lot of heart and worked hard to turn the program around,” said Coach Michele, a 1982 Cortland grad. “Now we have to sit here and hope the NCAA recognizes it and lets us fly.”
The Golden Eagles will be flying, Brockport to face Rowan in a first round NCAA game on Wednesday in New Jersey.
Cortland will begin NCAA tournament play hosting Norwich University from Vermont on Wednesday, that starting time still to be determined. A victory will put Cortland into the second round on Saturday, No. 1 nationally-ranked Hamilton College hosting that weekend regional.
The Norwich-Cortland winner goes up against the Colby-Southern Maine winner in that second round contest.