Behind five goals netted by sophomore attacker Alexa Smith, the MU women’s lacrosse team defeated Niagra University 15-11 at Kessler field on Sunday, improving to 6-5 on the season and 2-0 in MAAC play.
“It’s important to get a good start, and being 2-0 puts us in a good position,” MU head coach Eileen Ghent said. “This conference is so competitive; it’s really anyone’s game, no matter who or where you’re playing.”
After going into the half down 7-6, the Hawks berated Niagra’s defense for nine goals in the second period. Before this game, Niagra’s defense was averaging 9.6 goals allowed per contest for the 2016 season.
“We just wanted to get pumped up at halftime,” said Smith, who scored four of her game-high five goals in the second half. “We knew that we could come out on top.”
The game began with a goal by Niagra leading scorer and freshman attacker Caroline Crump, which was quickly answered by a 3-0 Hawk run, containing goals by Smith, sophomore midfielder Caroline Corbliss, and senior midfielder Michelle Gonzales. However, the Purple Eagles would answer with a three-goal stint of their own, and after a senior attacker Marial Pierce goal at the 12:17 mark tied the game at four, Niagra would bounce back with three more unanswered goals, putting them up 7-4.
With just over two minutes to play in the first half, senior midfielder Kristina Vangeli scored an unassisted goal after winning a draw that would come to be a major momentum shifter for the Hawks in their victory.
“I think the turning point in the game was when Kristina was able to get the draw then finish it with a goal,” Ghent said. “That was the momentum change that we needed.”
Niagra junior attacker Taylor Wolf opened the second half with her third goal of the game, giving the Purple Eagles an 8-6 advantage. Smith answered with her second goal of the day on a free position shot to make the score 8-7, but Niagra would follow with two goals netted by freshman attacker Rachel MacCheyne and senior midfielder Molly Gray, making the score 10-7.
In the ensuing five minutes, the Hawks would score the next five goals, two of those being recorded by Smith for her third and fourth goals of the day—putting MU ahead 12-10.
“She’s just so consistent and reliable,” Ghent said of Smith. “I know that every time she has the ball it’s going to result in a goal or a smart decision.”
An unassisted goal by Niagra sophomore midfielder Jillian Ford would bring the Purple Eagles within one, but it wouldn’t be enough.
MU answered with three goals of their own by Smith, Gonzales and sophomore attacker Kate Ryan—giving the game its final score of 15-11.
MU led Niagra in shots, 25-22 and ground balls, 26-18. Senior goalie Caroline Huelster recorded six saves in the contest, and Ghent couldn’t be happier with her goalie’s first year as a starter after backing up Canadian National Team selection Katie Donohoe.
“She’s amazing,” Ghent said. “She’s in a position no one else on the team has been. At a lot of other schools, she would have been the starter right away. She is changing the game for us.”
“It’s exciting,” Huelster said. “I have a lot of trust in my team and that the offense will score, and I feed off of them.”
The Hawks will return to play on Wednesday, Apr. 6 when they take on the Manhattan Jaspers in The Bronx, N.Y. The game is set to start at 3:00 p.m.
PHOTO COURTESY of Dan Stambaugh