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May 14, 2012

 

More Final Four Cortland fun

SoftballJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland’s Maria Di Fato moves in to score the final goal of the game against The College of New Jersey’s Nicole Pineda in the second half of Sunday’s NCAA tourney contest.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Getting a second chance to prove their lacrosse mettle in the NCAA Division III Final Four has been on the minds of SUNY Cortland women since the first day of pre-season practice.
The Red Dragons will get that sought-after opportunity for redemption after securing a 9-7 victory over The College of New Jersey in Sunday’s quarterfinal round tussle. Four goals by senior attack Erin Kollar and a gritty defensive effort featuring the work of sophomore defender Jessica Lavelle helped make Mother’s Day a big success for the regional hosts at the sunny Stadium Complex.
With a 19th consecutive victory that ties a school record, the Red Dragons will make a second consecutive visit to the Final Four — where their season ended a year ago in the semifinals. This time around they will hope a victory over Connecticut’s Trinity College will be the next step in this quest for a national championship.
The Final Four weekend being hosted by Montclair State in New Jersey will feature No. 1 nationally-ranked Salisbury (21-0) taking on Middlebury (15-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by No. 2 ranked Cortland (20-1) facing Trinity (19-1) at 4 p.m. The title game this coming Sunday starts at 2 p.m.
“I’m so proud of my team, so proud of my team,” said Cortland head coach Kathy Taylor after beating The College of New Jersey for the second time this season. Cortland had prevailed by a slender 8-7 margin in that previous match-up back on March 17 at this same site against a program that has captured 11 previous Division III national titles under Coach Sharon Pfluger.
“Honestly, at the end of the day it wasn’t great play. It was just heart and hard work,” Coach Taylor added, pounding her own chest.
Kollar netted a game-high four goals, none bigger than the point-blank putaway off a feed from behind the cage by Maria Di Fato that put the Red Dragons ahead 8-6 with 9:26 left to play.
Amazingly, that was the first goal by either side in a tense, deliberate second half standoff where each defense clamped down. The opening 30 minutes had been a lot more frantic, with Cortland holding on to a 7-6 lead.
The Red Dragons squandered second half opportunities to add to that slim advantage, and the Lions missed chances to finally pull even after falling behind 3-0 in the early going, before Kollar worked herself wide open to quick-stick Di Fato’s feed into the back of the net.
Kollar would say that goal “was pretty big” and explained how she got herself open on the crease. “I just work hard. I know they’re focused on Maria (Di Fato) and Rabbit (midfielder Lindsay Abbott), and I just work off them really well.”
ALL LAVELLE DOES is shut down high-scoring opponents.
In Saturday’s 14-5 Cortland second round victory over Mary Washington to get this four-team regional underway, senior midfielder Catherine Kennedy came into the game with a team-high 62 goals for the Eagles from Virginia. Kennedy would go without a point against the speedy and diminutive (being only 5 foot-4 inches) Lavelle.
TCNJ’s top gun is junior midfielder Alex Spark, whose team-high 76th goal of the season came on Saturday with eight seconds left to finish off a late Lions rally from a three-goal deficit that stunned Amherst College out of Massachusetts 8-7.
Against Lavelle’s determined defensive presence, Spark would not have a goal or an assist.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” said Fayetteville-Manlius product Lavelle when asked if she takes these one-on-one assignments personally. “It’s always personal when the coach gives you that number and how many goals they’ve had in the season. You never want to let them score or ever let your team down.”
Cortland’s defensive tenacity and a half-dozen saves by aggressive goalie Rachel Hutchinson helped out in up-for-grabs contest where both sides fired off 20 shots.
“Jessica Lavelle is a beast and she will leave her name in Division III before she leaves Cortland,” said Coach Taylor.
“We’ve been working on our defense all year,” noted Lavelle. “We really capitalize on team defense, and I couldn’t do it without my team and the way they slide and help me when I get beat. I couldn’t ask for a better defensive group.”
That defensive group held the Lions to a lone second half goal, coming after the Red Dragons went ahead 9-6. That three-goal cushion came two minutes after Kollar’s crucial goal, Di Fato broke free to shoot into an empty net with TCNJ goalie Kelsey Zinck straying away from the nets trying to force a turnover.
CORTLAND WON THE following draw and tried to chew up as much of the final seven minutes as possible, but turned the ball over with 4:53 left to play. That enabled TCNJ senior Kathleen Notos to score on a high, hard shot 32 seconds later to make this a two-goal affair.
The Lions then won the draw and Notos, marked by Lavelle at the time, got off a weaker shot that goalie Hutchinson handled with ease. Junior defender Jamie Flood lugged the ball down the field, Cortland went into stall mode with over three minutes to play and TCNJ never touched the ball again. The dangerous Lions had been tamed.
“That College of New Jersey team.... no one with as high of a seed as we had had to play a team like that,” said Cortland’s Taylor of this rugged quarterfinal round assignment. “That’s a great, great team we just beat. They’re talented on offense, they’re skilled on defense and they have a storied program. It’s always big when we get a win against them.”
Coach Taylor knew the Lions would come back after Cortland got the better of the play in the early going.
DiFato, Kollar and senior school scoring record holder Abbott all scored to give Cortland a 3-0 lead eight minutes into the game. Natalie Melaniff chipped in with a goal and two assists early, and when Kollar connected on her third goal of the game the Red Dragons were up 6-2 with 14:14 on the clock.
The Lions then scored four of the last five goals before halftime arrived, including sophomore Jen Garavente’s finish in front off a Leigh Mitchell feed that got TCNJ to with 7-6 with 12.6 seconds showing on the scoreboard clock. That’s the closest TCNJ would get on this day.
ON SATURDAY —
Cortland 12, Mary Washington 5: Gina Campese got Cortland rolling, scoring two goals and assisting on a pair of Kollar putaways to get Cortland off to a 4-0 start 10 minutes into the game. Mary Washington out of Virginia pulled to with 8-4 at halftime, but Di Fato scored 2:14 into the second half before Campese tucked away her third goal three minutes later to hike the Cortland lead back to a safe 10-4 margin.
Mary Washington (14-5) managed just a lone second half goal, negating any comeback hopes. Keller Torrey and Allie Kimmelman each scored twice in the loss. Kollar finished with four goals to lead the Red Dragons, with Di Fato and Abbott each scoring twice.

 

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