March 5, 2014

Seton Hill, in Season After Tragedy, Off to Strong Start

by Mark Macyk | | Twitter

“It absolutely can be a normal season,” Seton Hill coach Courtney Tamasitis Grove said after a 15-8 win on the road Saturday. “It is a normal season… It started with that first practice in the gym. We went and got our sticks out just like everyone else.” (Brian Kunst)

The sun came up on Saturday morning and Seton Hill played a women’s lacrosse game at Villanova.

At first glance, if you ignored the three-foot high wall of snow boxing in the field, it looked like any other lacrosse game.

Players bounced sticks off the turf, where, 10 months earlier, North Carolina’s women won their first NCAA championship. Freshmen waved to their parents in the stands. Sticks, and backup sticks, were checked and re-checked, while teammates played catch and laughed. 

Fans in Tastykake windbreakers and Eagles beanies lined up to show their support for the home team, the defending CACC champion Holy Family Tigers, who had moved the game to the Main Line from their campus in Northeast Philadelphia because of weather-related issues.

Legs chattered in the freezing temperatures before the opening draw. A mother from the home team asked her daughter why she hadn’t heeded her advice and worn long sleeves. Her father wondered aloud whether he should call the doctor in advance.

The visitors raced out to an early lead and their fans cheered, the applause muffled by gloves and scarves. The home bench yelled “ball.” Both goalies made great saves. Seton Hill's transition play was crisp. As the goals started to fall, and the Griffins built a three-goal halftime lead, a few fans in the crowd made up specialized cheers for each player.

It took further inspection to see that this wasn’t just any regular season game.

The crimson-and-gold ribbon affixed to the back of the goalie’s helmet. The player on the SHU sideline wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt that read: “Coach Quigley, Forever a Griffin.” The jersey underneath that warmup, adorned with the black patch reading “KQ” and “JQ.” Then a look at the roster, and the revelation that more than half the team is listed as redshirts because their season was tragically cut short by the bus accident that took the life of their coach, Kristie Quigley, and her unborn son last March.

It was Seton Hill’s first regular season road game since the accident. And that’s exactly what this is. A regular season.

Courtney Tamasitis Grove, who played with Quigley at Duquense, helmed SHU from 2008-11 and recruited many of its juniors and seniors, returned to coach the Griffins this summer.

“It absolutely can be a normal season,” Grove said after the game Saturday. “It is a normal season… It started with that first practice in the gym. We went and got our sticks out just like everyone else.”

On Saturday, the Griffins got their sticks out and defeated Holy Family, 15-8, to improve to 2-0. Junior Emma Simmers scored five goals, including the eventual winner for the second straight game, and was named PSAC Player of the Week. Sophomore Renee Kania chipped in four assists. Sophomore Emily Fagan and freshman Christine Palmieri added three goals each.

Following the game, Grove told her team she was happy with everything, but wished they hadn’t let up those two soft goals at the end. She called their fast breaks unbelievable. She was especially thrilled with the way they played as a team.

After working through plenty this fall, the regular season has officially started for Seton Hill. It’s an exciting time because it’s the first year that the tiny Catholic School will play in the mighty PSAC, a league filled with large Pennsylvania state schools, which regularly sends one or two teams to the NCAA tournament. And, if the first two games are any indication, a league the Griffins can be competitive in from Day 1.

It’s also a regular season they have dedicated to Quigley.

“It just means we think about her every time we’re out here,” Grove said. “I know she’s on my mind every day.”

The Griffins set out for suburban Philadelphia from their Pittsburgh-area campus on Friday night. The bus headed east down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They watched “Pitch Perfect,” one of their favorite movies for, probably, the 1,000th time. At a certain point the bus passed by the spot of the accident. They rolled by it like it was anywhere else.

They arrived in the Philadelphia area, went to the mall, went to sleep, woke up and convincingly won a lacrosse game. Then they met their parents, got back on the bus and headed back to campus. They’ll play a home game against Chestnut Hill on Saturday. A few days later they’ll host Indiana (Pa.) in a game that will, once again, provide a glimpse at two of the best up-and-coming teams in the South Region. Eventually they’ll hit the road again, to West Virginia to play Shepherd.

The regular season rolls on.

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