April 27, 2011

Seniors Lead East Stroudsburg to First Playoff Victory in 25 Years

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Michelle Mangiaruga is one of seven seniors who have helped turn around a once-moribund East Stroudsburg women's lacrosse team. The Warriors' upset of Gannon in the PSAC quarterfinals marked their first playoff win since 1986.

Four years of college can change a senior class. Sometimes four years of a senior class changes a college.

Consider that prior to Tuesday, East Stroudsburg hadn't won a playoff game since three years before Jamie Wesztergom was born. Or that it had won just two games total the year before Morgan Knowles arrived. That last season, when Molly O'Hara won the PSAC East Athlete of the Year Award, Jane Koeniges was splitting her time as an assistant between the field hockey and lacrosse teams. Or that sometimes this spring Christine Bradley had to practice on her own because the team's schedule conflicted with her student teaching.

That's all in the past. It no longer matters that, despite three goals from Michelle Mangiaruga in the final 15 minutes, ESU fell by one goal to Bloomsburg in the PSAC finale. That Xeni Barakos had to wait until Saturday night, when Mercyhurst took care of IUP, to find out whether her senior season would continue.

What matters is Brittany Bissell and the ESU defense held Gannon to its lowest scoring output in a month, the Warriors won their first playoff game since 1986 by beating Gannon 16-8, and seven seniors have remade a program.

"They wanted to make an impact," said Koeniges, who took as ESU's head coach this winter. "They wanted to it to be a totally different program when they walked off."

Mission accomplished. As freshmen, this magnificent seven led a team that had won a combined six games in the previous two seasons to an 11-7 record and a PSAC playoff berth. After missing the playoffs in 2009, the Warriors were back last year, but came up short against Bloomsburg. Bloomsburg almost ended their season early with a 9-8 victory last week, but Mercyhurst put ESU in with a one-goal over Indiana (Pa.) on Saturday. The rest is history.

For landing a class that featured players like O'Hara, who ranks in Division II's top 30 in goals, Mangiaruga, who ranks in the top 30 in assists and Bissell, whom Koeniges calls the "mind, body and soul" of the defense, credit Lynne Elphick. Koeniges assisted Elphick, the program's first full-time coach, for three seasons, before Elphick stepped down to have her second child.

"She out-worked everybody," Koeniges said. "Her personality is that everyone who sits and talks to her is so comfortable. She really met with these girls, told her vision, where she wanted the program to be. They agreed. I was heartbroken when she left. She was such a great asset to the program."

Elphick's vision came to fruition Tuesday when the Warriors (10-8) used a balanced attack to outscore Gannon 8-4 in each half, with four seniors notching three goals each. Bradley, the future teacher, led all players with three goals and five assists. O'Hara had three goals and two assists, Mangiaruga three goals and one assist and Wesztergom three goals. Barakos and Bissell each picked up three ground balls.

The Warriors survived to take on Lock Haven (14-2) in the PSAC semifinals this weekend at West Chester. Members of the class of 2011 are not in any rush to end their college careers.

"I don't know if they've really addressed it yet," Koeniges said. "They were just happy for the win. Later it will all sink in, what the win really means. They're just excited to move on. Right after the win they were asking, 'Well, if we win Friday can we stay overnight?'"

That will be an even greater task. Lock Haven beat ESU 17-6 in March and is two years removed from an NCAA championship appearance.

But the Warriors won't dwell on the past. They've already shown history doesn't matter.

"They want to leave a different stamp on the program," Koeniges said. "They have confidence. They know these teams will be excellent this weekend, teams that have done well against us. They have nothing to lose. They'll play hard, and the chips will fall where they fall."

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