April 8, 2011

NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Notebook: WNEC Turns Season Around

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Western New England College goalie Marissa Bonitatibus, a second-year captain, backstops the seventh-ranked scoring defense in NCAA Division III women's lacrosse.

© Richard Orr

The Golden Bear is synonymous with California. No school has given more fame to the mythical yellow bear than Cal-Berkley, the only Division I team with the moniker.

But for Western New England's Golden Bears, a spring break trip to Southern California brought the season to a new low.

On St. Patrick's Day, WNEC blew a three-goal lead with 15 minutes remaining and fell 13-11 at Redlands. It was the Bears' third loss in four games. The Commonwealth Coast Conference season loomed later that week.

The Redlands loss became a turning point. Team bonding ensued. The losing streak is a distant memory. Western New England (8-3) won the next six games by an average score of 17-4, allowing one goal or less three times and pitching one shutout.

"They never wanted to play like they did in that second half again," said WNEC coach Aimee Klepacki. "Their goals are more team-orientated now. They were playing like individuals for the first four or five games. Finally they were seeing where I was coming from, that playing as a team was only going to create more success."

That message was received when the Golden Bears opened conference play with an 18-0 win over Regis (Mass.) Three days later, they defeated University at New England 17-1, erasing memories of a 12-11 loss from a season ago. Senior Marissa Bonitatibus made 10 saves against UNE.

Said Klepacki: "She made some unbelievable saves in that one."

Bonitatibus is a second-year captain, as is her classmate defender Nicole Poli. It's the experience of these two that has WNEC ranked seventh in Division III in goals allowed per game. Of the teams ahead of it on that list -- TCNJ, Messiah, Bowdoin, Washington and Jefferson, Franklin and Marshall and Trinity (Conn.) -- five are ranked in the top 15 in this week's IWLCA poll.

The offense has been a mix of young players and veterans. Freshman Kelsey Daniels leads the team with 50 points, and classmate Liz McRoberts has made an impact. Junior Katie Toomey has 21 goals and 14 assists, and senior Jeanmarie Barbato has 38 goals and five assists.

In an 18-1 win last Saturday over Anna Maria, Barbato became the third player in school history to score 200 goals. The Huntington Station, N.Y., native almost didn't arrive at WNEC. Late in the recruiting cycle, an assistant coach saw her playing at a tournament. Klepacki watched the film and signed her up.

"It was last-minute," Klepacki said. "I told her, 'You'll definitely be able to play here.' We were very lucky to land her."

WNEC's winning streak will be put the test this week, as the toughest part of its TCCC schedule starts with games at Gordon (Saturday), versus Roger Williams (Tuesday,) at Curry (April 16) and versus Endicott (April 23).

Jaeger sets TCNJ scoring record; Lions prepare for Salisbury

It what ended up being a tune-up for this week's showdown with No. 2 Salisbury, a 17-0 romp at Rutgers Camden, TCNJ's Ali Jaeger scored three goals to become the school's all-time scoring leader. Her 234 goals break the previous TCNJ record held by Lauren Dougher (2003-06). Jaeger also had four assists to tie with Dougher atop the school's career points list at 317.

The top-ranked Lions (11-0), who have already defeated Cortland and Gettysburg, face their toughest test of the season Sunday, when they head to Maryland for a showdown with defending NCAA champion Salisbury (13-1).

Salisbury has bounced back since its overtime loss to Franklin and Marshall, shutting out two of its past three opponents.

As the NESCAC turns

The NESCAC continues to be Division III's toughest conference. No. 4 Trinity (8-0) remains in first place, but the Bantams have had to earn every win. The beat at No. 16 Williams  9-4 and took down unranked Wesleyan at home, 12-9. Trinity plays at No. 12 Tufts (6-2) on Saturday.

No. 9 Middlebury (6-2) was the hot team last week, but the third and fourth games of its seven-ranked-opponents-in-seven-games stretch proved to be too much. No. 8 Colby ended Middlebury's winning streak, 11-10 in overtime on Sarah Lux's game-winner last Saturday. Three days later, No. 3 Hamilton (5-1) rolled past Middlebury, 16-6.

Middlebury's five-game road swing ends this week, but the ranked opponents continue. The Panthers host No. 14 Bowdoin (8-1) on Saturday and will face five ranked opponents in their final six games.

Bowdoin will look to build on Wednesday's overtime victory over Colby. McKenna Teague scored the game-winner with six seconds remaining in overtime to give the Polar Bears a 10-9 win and their third win in four tries over their in-state rivals.

No. 20 Bates (5-4) became the league's eighth school in the top 20 this week and Wesleyan, which just played Trinity close and is undefeated outside the NESCAC, could probably make a case for being the ninth.

The NESCAC will not get any easier anytime soon. Hamilton joins next season.

Gwynedd-Mercy takes inside track in CSAC

Gwynedd-Mercy moved closer to the Colonial States Athletic Conference title with a 12-11 win over defending champion Cabrini on Tuesday in a rematch of last year's final. Trisha Timony made 17 saves to help the Griffins (7-3), who led 7-1 midway through the first half, hold off a Cabrini comeback.

Gwynedd-Mercy improved to 4-0 in the CSAC. For Cabrini (2-6), it's the first league loss. There's a good chance these teams might meet again. Gwynedd-Mercy also beat Cabrini last season, 15-8, but fell in the championship game 24-12.

Gwyned-Mercy continues its CSAC slate, hosting Immaculata (3-7) on Saturday. Cabrini hosts Marywood (7-2) on Saturday.

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