ASHLAND, Va. – The No. 7 Salisbury University women's lacrosse team fell to No. 3 Middlebury College in the national championship game of the 2019 NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Tournament on Sunday afternoon at Randolph-Macon College, 14-9.
"The game was a battle," Head Coach Jim Nestor said. "We were there. We had a nice little spurt on that comeback, getting it real close, which I thought if we continued on with that we would've been right there at the very end. But when you have that high of pressure, it really took us out of our rhythm on offense."
Middlebury (22-1) jumped out to an early 3-0 lead less than four minutes in, including two free-position goals.
The Sea Gulls (20-4) ended the 3-0 run, getting on the board a little over five minutes into game action as Alexis Strobel wrapped around the goal and found the back of the net to make it 3-1.
Courtney Fegan, one of three Sea Gulls to make the all-tournament team, brought Salisbury within one after picking up her own rebound following a save on her own free-position shot.
Middlebury pushed its lead back to two, 4-2, on its third free-position goal of the game.
After a combined six goals in the first 10 minutes, neither team was able to score in the next seven minutes. The Panthers were the next to find the back of the net, however, taking advantage of a man-up opportunity to take a three-goal lead once again. The goal was the start of a 5-0 run for Middlebury, giving Salisbury its largest deficit of the season at 8-2.
Salisbury was able to cut into the deficit with two goals to close out the half. The first came on a free-position shot from Gianna Demato, while Strobel was able to find Lydia McNulty for the second with 1:02 remaining in the half to make the score 8-4 at the break. McNulty joined seniors Fegan and Martha Hutzell, who came up with six draw controls, one groundball, and one caused turnover, on the all-tournament team.
"I think we've learned a lot from these seniors," McNulty said. "They've taught us a lot on and off the field, and I think we've grown as players because of them and they'll definitely leave behind a legacy. I'm looking forward to remembering this and working hard all summer and putting in the work so that we can come back stronger next year."
Strobel finished her season with 73 assists, the second-most in a season in program history. She also ended the 2019 campaign with 96 points, which ties her for the eighth-most points in a single season in program history. Hutzell finished the game with six draw controls, one groundball, and one caused turnover. The defender finished her career in third place on the program's all-time draw controls list with 163.
The Panthers opened the second half with a goal just 45 seconds in as Jane Earley tallied her fourth of the game.
Strobel tallied the first goal of the second half for the Sea Gulls at the 26:44 mark, beating her defender behind the net, wrapping around, and shooting up high for her second goal of the day to make it 9-5.
After two big saves from Skye Graham, McNulty punched in her second of the afternoon, taking the ball from the top of the arc to the right side, where she fired home a shot.
The Sea Gulls inched closer on Emma Skoglund's first goal of the day, scoring on a feed from Demato with just under 21 minutes to play to bring Salisbury within two, 9-7. It was the closest the Sea Gulls would get, however, as Middlebury went on a 5-1 run to take control of the contest.
The Panthers scored two straight goals before Fegan notched her second goal of the game with 10:23 remaining to make it 11-8. Middlebury then rattled off three straight goals, including another free-position goal to bring its total to six. The third goal of the 3-0 Middlebury run came with 3:13 remaining in regulation to make the score 14-8 before the game entered a weather delay.
Following the hour and a half weather delay, Skoglund tallied her second of the day, receiving a pass in front of the net from Lindsey Wagner and finishing off the one-timer. It would be the final goal of the game for either team as Middlebury goalkeeper Julia Keith came up with her ninth save of the game and the Panthers ran out the final seconds for the 14-9 victory and seventh national championship in program history.
"I'm very proud of everything they've accomplished," Nestor said. "I was telling them, you know, the two final teams in the country, so many teams would love to be in this situation. All of their hard work and everything they've put in over the years, this team ranks right up there."