LEICESTER, Mass. — The Southern Vermont College women's lacrosse team continues to raise eyebrows while extending its impressive second year as a varsity program as the third-seeded Mountaineers worked their way into the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) championship game with a 15-13 triumph at No. 2 Becker College Thursday evening.
SVC trailed by six late in the first stanza of the semifinal match at Alumni Field before scoring twice in the final minute of the opening period to go into halftime down 8-4. Three unanswered goals early into the second frame got SVC within one, only to see the Hawks score three of the next four to push it back to a three-goal lead.
Southern Vermont refused to quit, however, ending the game on a 6-1 run over the final 12:18 of action to pull ahead and close out its third straight victory for the longest winning streak in the program's short history. It is also the fourth win in the team's last five games.
Senior captain Emily Freling (Schenevus, N.Y.) said of her squad, "We all worked really hard together as a team. I think that's the best we ever worked together. We just have so much trust in each other, and we continue to build that trust as we work together even more."
The Mountaineers improve to 7-10 overall on the year with their first win over Becker in three meetings. Southern Vermont now has a chance to double its win total from last year's inaugural season on Saturday as SVC will head to top-seeded Regis College, the three-time defending NECC Champions, for a 12 p.m. title matchup.
"What can you say about a team like this?" asked SVC head coach Thomas L. Otero while calming down from the jubilation. "They dug themselves a hole, picked themselves out of it, dug a smaller hole, picked themselves out of it, and then decided to fill in the hole to finish the game. It was a tremendous team effort; the defense stepped up and played really well. We played smart."
"At halftime, we realized that we needed to take care of the ball more," Otero continued. "Becker is a well-coached team with great players, but our team would not quit. They played so hard; I just can't believe it- I'm just so proud of them."
Junior captain Lauren Nesshoever (Chittenden, Vt.) continued her great week of playoff action for Southern Vermont, scoring a team-best five goals with her last being what proved to be the game winner; she also tied the SVC-high of six draw controls and scooped up four ground balls.
Fellow junior captain Emily Lesure (Cheshire, Mass.) had four goals, four draw controls and three ground balls for the Mountaineers, and her classmate and additional captain Mel Orrell (Gloucester, Mass.) recorded three goals on the evening, two coming late in the second half to tie the score at 13-13. Orrell also had game-highs of five ground balls and six caused turnovers while tying Nesshoever's six controls to help SVC take a large advantage on the draw; her caused turnover mark is a new single game record for the program.
Southern Vermont freshman Aubrey Vierstra (Saugerties, N.Y.) scored once and collected a pair of ground balls for the visitors as her classmate Stephany Ferreira (Shelton, Conn.) scored twice in the second-half surge, her second goal being an insurance tally to help give the Mountaineers the edge. Ferreira also had three ground balls and two draw controls for SVC.
Sophomore keeper Kelsey Carrera (Queensbury, N.Y.) moved to 5-5 on the year with the win in net for Southern Vermont, surpassing her team wins record from last year as she stopped seven Hawk shots on the night.
SVC dominated on the draw, reeling in 23 to Becker's seven as the Mountaineers came just two shy of their single-game record. Southern Vermont also owned a 24-14 advantage in ground balls while outshooting the Hawks by a 40-25 clip.
"I think the halftime really got to us," Nesshoever noted about the team's swing between the two periods. "Seeing that we were down by a few goals- we just wanted to rally and push it as far as we could. We figured we had nothing to lose, so why not go for it all. Pushing it as hard as we could really paid off. [Going to the championship in just the second year is] unbelievable- it's wild."
Orrell came inches away from putting SVC up in the fifth minute of the match as she ripped a shot from about 10 yards out, but it rang off the crossbar to the relief of the hosts. It wouldn't be much longer until she found the back of the net, however, as the junior crossed to the middle of the field from the right side and put her 63rd goal of the year on the top shelf.
Orrell then snagged the ensuing draw control, setting her team up to score again just 55 seconds later when sophomore Paige Vitale (Greenville, N.Y.) fed Vierstra for the rookie to put home her sixth score of the season and give the Mountaineers the 2-0 upper hand. Carrera came up with three saves at the other end over the next three minutes to maintain the advantage, but her Becker counterpart would then start to come up with big stops of her own as the Hawks' offense got rolling.
The BC netminder turned away the next seven SVC shots that she faced over the next 19 minutes, frustrating the Mountaineer attack while her team scored eight unanswered goals to go up by six.
Southern Vermont was finally able to get back in the cage late in the period, scoring twice in the last 54 seconds of the first half to cut its deficit down to four with both goals being with a Mountaineer in the penalty area. Nesshoever took a long carry into the Becker zone and fired a shot on frame; her first attempt was saved, but she collected the rebound and got her second chance to go five-hole. Lesure then drew a foul near the cage with just 16.5 seconds on the clock, and she made it hurt as the captain fired it high past the BC goalie to make it an 8-4 contest going to the intermission.
Orrell said of her halftime mindset, "I thought to myself: there's no way this is going to be our last game. I really want to win this. My team really wants this. I know that they're counting on me, so I need to step something up."
Orrell reeled in the opening draw control of the second half, allowing Lesure to pot her second of the day just 49 seconds into the stanza when she brought the ball in from the top-right side of the fan and ripped it into the bottom-right corner. BC got the next tally a few minutes later, but SVC responded right away as Ferreira took the subsequent draw control and set up Lesure at the top of the fan. The ball fell from Lesure's basket to the ground, but she was able to scoop it back up, twirl herself and her stick, and shovel her third of the day into the back of the net.
Lesure and Nesshoever then teamed up for back-to-back goals, getting their team within one. Lesure fumbled a pass in front of the net but was able to recover, picking the ball up off the turf and taking a few steps through space to set up a shot fired into the top-right corner of the frame. Nesshoever brought the ball in from behind the BC restraining line, weaving through the Hawk defense before slotting a shot into the bottom of the cage.
Becker got some breathing room, scoring three of the next four to extend its lead back to three with 17:38 remaining. But the Mountaineers would seize momentum from there, using a yellow card issued to their bench to get fired up and take control.
Nesshoever brought the ball around to the left side of the perimeter before cutting across the face of the goal and sending a backwards shot into the left netting. Vitale then worked the right edge of the pitch and got the ball to an open Ferreira in the middle, the rookie ripping a shot that dinged off the left post before sliding behind the BC keeper to make it a one-goal game with 8:57 on the clock.
The Hawks tacked up the next point of the night, but it would be their last as the final seven minutes was all-SVC. A Ferreira free-position shot was saved by the Becker netminder, but the clearing attempt was knocked down by Orrell who then gathered the loose ball, took a few steps at the goal and let one go into the back of the cage. She then tied the game 13-13 at the 5:44 mark, wheeling around the back of the net before coming across from the left side and depositing her 65th goal of the season.
"I think what helped a lot was that we just took it one goal at a time, each time," Lesure commented. "No matter who was scoring, we just wanted to get that ball in the back of the net. I think once we caught up and we were tied, that's what made us see that: 'Okay we can do this. Don't give up. Heads up. Let's go."
Southern Vermont again won the draw control as play resumed, helping keep the ball down in the Becker end of the field. A yellow card to BC gave the Mountaineers the man-up opportunity, and they used that to their advantage to take their first lead since there was 14:36 on the clock in the opening half.
Ferreira showed tremendous hustle to track down a wayward pass that was headed out of bounds for an SVC turnover, instead stopping the ball short of the sideline and picking it up off the turf; she then got it to Nesshoever who sent a low shot into the frame to put her team on top.
The Mountaineers got the ball off the next draw and had Lesure afforded a free-position shot, but it was saved by the Hawk keeper to preserve the one-goal difference. The Becker clear, however, failed as Southern Vermont regained possession and made the most of it. Ferreira took the ball from the left corner and battled her way through the BC defense, getting herself in front of the net and slotting in a low shot for her eighth goal of the year to come at the 2:27 mark.
"I just came out after my penalty, and I wanted that win," Ferreira modestly said of her late-game performance. "I felt like our team definitely has heart and had the skill to do it, and I was honestly just thinking of: 'What else can I do,' and it was just nothing special."
SVC used one final draw control on the restart to seal the deal, Orrell killing the majority of the clock as she played keep away from Becker and ran down the time before rejoicing the huge postseason victory with her teammates.
The celebration carried on while the Mountaineers also turned their focus instantly to Saturday's title game.
"Regis plays a really tough defense, and they have some really good players," Otero said of his championship opponent. "We played them the last time in the middle of the season. Over these last two and a half weeks, we have really improved in all aspects of the game. And what we have developed is confidence, more so than skill. Now we're in the 'I believe' stage. We're going to go at Regis. They put their kilts on the same way that we do; they hold their sticks the same way that we do. We have players who won't quit. I think we're going to challenge them. We've been playing with emotion lately; we've been playing with that desire to not finish second."