May 20, 2012

Trinity Upsets Salisbury to Take First National Title

by Mark Macyk | | Live Blog Replay

MONTCLAIR, N.J. - A scoreboard malfunction at Montclair State's Sprague Field left Sunday's NCAA Division III women's lacrosse championship game without a visible clock.

So when Trinity junior Kaitlin Hildebrand scored back-to-back goals to give the Bantams the lead for good in the second half, she didn't realize the magnitude of the moment.

"Honestly, without a scoreboard, I had no idea what the score was," Hildebrand said. "It was just all in the moment. You get a free position, just make this free position. I think I knew it was important, but I had no idea."

Hadley Duncan scored twice, including one that helped Trinity built a three-goal lead in the second half. The Bantams held on from there to win 8-7 and upset top-seeded Salisbury in the NCAA Division III women's championship.
© Jim O'Connor

Hadley Duncan and Liz Bruno scored to extend Trinity's lead to three and the Bantams withstood a late Salisbury rally to win 8-7. It is Trinity's first NCAA women's lacrosse championship.

Hildebrand led Trinity with three goals, Duncan had two goals, Bruno had one goal and one assist, Shea Kusiak had one goal and Caroline Hayes had one goal. Olivia Whitney made five saves.

The championship was a game of alternating runs.

Thanks to its roving zone defense, Trinity (21-1) entered halftime with a 4-0 lead. It was the largest deficit faced all year by Salisbury (22-1) and the first time the Sea Gulls were shut out in any half.

"I thought we struggled in that first half," said Salisbury coach Jim Nestor. "[We] made a little too many mistakes any way you look at. Trinity was a great team. They played really, really well. [Their] defense was hard to figure out in the first half, obviously, scoring zero goals. I was proud of the way the girls battled back."

The first half was all about Trinity's defense. The key to the second half was draw controls. Salisbury won four of the first five draws after the break and scored five goals in 11 minutes to go ahead 5-4. Lauren Feusahrens was particularly dominant during that run, providing two goals and one assist.

"Things just opened up," Nestor said. "We talked about different things we would like to do. I think in the first half we just got rushed. Had some openings. [Trinity senior defender Liza Beckler] did a great job with some interceptions. Obviously they'd seen some footage on us and the way we like to pass the ball."

Trinity called a timeout after Salisbury tied it at four. After the game no one recalled exactly what was said, but the message was that the Bantams needed to start winning draws and possess the ball.

"I think we were on our heels a little bit," said Trinity coach Kate Livesay.

Trinity won the ensuing draw, and three of the next four. Hildebrand tied it at five with 16:08 remaining to kick-start a 4-0 run that put the Bantams up for good.

After Hildebrand's back-to-back scores, Duncan and Bruno scored to push the lead to 8-5. Bruno's goal proved to be the game-winner.

After the game, Bruno was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

"She has this will to win that is incredible," Livesay said. "In that moment, that came out in the best way possible for us. Our team really is inspired by that kind of play. That was exactly what we needed."

Livesay won two titles as a defender at Middlebury. This is her first as a coach.

"It is a little different," she said. "When you're working with 23 girls you want so much for each and every one, I think there is a little more of an emotional investment whereas in a player you can just do your part."

Salisbury continued the trend of top seeds failing to win the big prize. No undefeated team has won the title since Franklin & Marshall in 2007. Brittany Baer led Salisbury with three goals and Feusahrens had two goals and one assist.

When Salisbury's offense struggled early on, sophomore goalie Ashton Wheatley kept the Sea Gulls in it with some remarkable saves.

"I think it's pretty obvious her future is huge," said senior Allie Wheatley, Ashton's sister. "She's come up so big for us. I don't think there's anything she should be ashamed of. Just being a sophomore shows how much time she has to improve on how great she already is."

Allie Wheatley is one of five talented seniors Salisbury loses next season, but the future remains bright for the Sea Gulls.

"I think it's hard for us being our last game but there's just so much talent and heart on this team I don't doubt they'll be right back where we are," Wheatley said. "I just know the five of us are going to step off the field, but five more people are going to step up just as strong."

There could also be more titles in Trinity's future. The Bantams lose just four seniors, though that list includes Bruno, Beckler and 51-point scorer Caite Irvine.

Last season, Trinity was the tournament's undefeated No. 1 seed and fell in the quarterfinals to Bowdoin. Beckler said after back-to-back quarterfinal appearances, 2012 definitely seemed like Trinity's time.

It was a perfect ending for Beckler, who as the rover is the key cog on Trinity's defense and had three caused turnovers. Beckler is a native of Potomac, Md., and said she didn't consider attending Salisbury. She also took no added pleasure in beating a team from her home state.

Said Beckler: "I would have been happy to beat any team."

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