May 10, 2009

Future Glimpse?: Hamilton Rolls to Salem

by Bob Conn | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Hamilton College women's lacrosse defender Audrey Nebergall contains Middlebury's Carrie Sparks during first-half NCAA Division III Regional Final action at Alfond Field at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, on Sunday. The Continentals downed the Panthers 13-9 to return to the NCAA Division III Final Four.
© Bob Conn 

WATERVILLE, Maine - In just three short years, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), arguably one of the strongest women's Division III conference's in the nation, will gain a new entry, one that has a chance for a second consecutive Division III national title this year.

Yes, the strong will get stronger.

Hamilton College, based in Clinton, N.Y., will become a member of the NESCAC in the sport of women's lacrosse. The Continentals, currently not a full-fledged member of the conference, will make the move in 2012, joining an impressive list of teams, many of which Hamilton got to see firsthand on Saturday and Sunday.

Hamilton joined NESCAC members Colby, Williams and Middlebury for the regional semifinals and finals at Bill Alfond Field on the campus of Colby College.

After downing Williams in an 8-7 thriller on Saturday, the Continentals (16-2) went on to beat Middlebury 13-9 on Sunday to advance to the NCAA Division III Final Four this weekend at Donald J. Kerr Stadium in Salem, Va.

The defending champs, who will face 19-1 Franklin & Marshall on Saturday at 8 p.m., are looking to defend their 2008 title, and showed their future NESCAC brethren that the Continentals will not be an easy team to contend with down the road.

"It really has been a lot of fun building this program over the past few years," said charismatic Hamilton coach Patty Kloidt from her wheelchair after the game.

See, Kloidt is nursing a torn ACL, sustained, of all things, when she landed wrong after leaping high into the air after watching her team score a big overtime winning goal against William Smith earlier this season.

"During the past four years, we have scheduled NESCAC opponents during our spring break, and have purposely scheduled tough opponents as much as possible," Kloidt continued. "We did this so we can improve, and when we get to this point in our season, we are not in awe of any of our opponents. We have a mindset that we can play with anyone."

"They come into the conference in 2012 and it will certainly be another tough opponent for all of us," said Middlebury coach Missy Foote, whose team shut down host Colby 9-3 on Saturday to advance to the Regional final. "Hamilton plays an ‘isolated stall,' and that is a hard offense to contain. We were hoping to get up early, but we only led by a goal (2-1) for a short time and their offense took over."

A six-goal run over a 5:41 span of the first half provided the Continentals with a 7-2 lead with Middlebury never getting closer than three goals (7-4) the rest of the way. Hamilton led 12-5 after a goal by senior midfielder Kaillie Briscoe with 18:14 left, but Middlebury made it interesting with three goals in seven minutes to close to 12-8.

But the champs held the ball for long stretches of time the rest of the way to seal the win.

There were several heroes for Hamilton in the final - three goals and three assists from Briscoe, and five goals from junior attack Liz Rave - but it was goaltender Kate Fowler that was large in the win.

Middlebury, with any luck at all, could have won this game.

The Panthers held a 30-22 shot advantage, held possession for long periods of time, putting the pressure on Hamilton defenders Lauren Sokol, Catie Gibbons, Liz Benjamin and Sarah Bray. But, Fowler was a rock, turning aside 17 shots, many coming from just outside her crease.

"I was in the zone, and the defense in front of me was outstanding once again," said Fowler. "It was fun playing against these very good NESCAC teams. This is tough competition up here, and we feel fortunate to be able to defend our title."

"We knew coming in that Middlebury was going to get some looks because that's the name of the game, but Fowler was so tough today, and her defense always gave her good looks," said Kloidt. "It may be cliché, but we played as a team today, and we controlled their looks well enough to come out on top."

The quarterback for Hamilton was Briscoe, who sported black paint around her eyes, giving her an intimidating look. She took all of her team's draws, and finished with a 15-9 draw-control advantage.

Offensively, she possessed the ball and ran the Continental plays to perfection to finish with three assists. Rave was solid in finishing plays, using her speed to slip through the Middlebury defense and her shot to beat Panthers netminder Blair Bowie (six saves) five times.

Sporting about 10 bruises on each of her arms from slashes on her way to the goal, Rave also dished out an assist.

"We were able to get some good looks at their net, and when given that, we are a dangerous team," said Rave.

Other goal scorers for Hamilton were Libby Schultz, Audrey Nebergall, Sarah Bray, Anne Graveley and Hilary Saverin, while Middlebury received its offense from Lindsay McBride (four goals, one assist), Chase Delano (four goals), Dana Heritage (one goal, one assist), Sally Ryan (two assists) and Taryn Petrelli (two assists).

Kloidt feels her team is prepared to defend its national title, despite a trying season where every mistake was magnified and celebrated by Hamilton's opponents.

"Being the defending champ is difficult because everything we do wrong seems to be a morale victory for our opponent, whether it's losing a ball, or not scoring on a shot," said Kloidt.

"It has been a crazy year in women's lacrosse, like Colby beating Salisbury, Washington and Lee beating Middlebury. It has been weird. But, I can say that going back to the Final Four is not a novelty for us. We know what we are getting into, the competition we will face, and I'm confident that we will do well again this year."

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