MIDDLEBURY — Given second life by the NCAA Division III selection committee after losing an April 26 NESCAC quarterfinal, the Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team made the most of that chance on Saturday, when the Panthers opened the NCAA tournament by thumping visiting Endicott, 19-7.
The 12-5 Panthers, healthier after their two-week layoff, bolted to a 10-1 lead before Coach Missy Foote began substituting freely and watched her team coast past the 14-4 Gulls.
Middlebury will next face Gettysburg in a regional semifinal that will feature Trinity (16-2) vs. Fredonia (12-6) in the other semi. The site was not official on Sunday, but Gettysburg was expected to host.
Foote noted on Saturday Gettysburg has been on the Panthers’ schedule over the years, and most of the Panthers have played — and won — at that site.
“We know the field,” Foote said. “Only our first-years have not played there. So we’re good to go to Gettysburg.”
Foote was pleased how her team responded after their two-week break.
“I was a little worried about the two weeks off,” Foote said. “But they came together and gained a lot of confidence.”
Middie Catherine Fowler, who controlled nine first-half draws as Middlebury dominated possession, said the Panthers took the opportunity not only to hone their skills, but also to recover from nagging injuries that contributed to four losses in their final six games — all to NCAA teams, and by a total of seven goals.
“We were able to get our health back, get our strength back, something we’ve been struggling with the whole year,” Fowler said.
Middie Laurel Pascal, who scored four goals on Saturday, said the Panthers also used their practice time to focus on trouble spots, notably transitioning the ball from defense to offense and showing more patience on the attack, efforts that showed up on Saturday.
“We’ve been working a lot on our midfield transition, and I think that we did an awesome job of making smart decisions,” Pascal said. “On attack, we’ve been working on really moving the ball and looking for the cuts, not just driving.”
Pascal scored two of the Panthers’ four goals in the first 6:31, one on a feed from middie Katie Ritter and one from attacker Mary O’Connell. O’Connell (two goals, four assists) also set up a Megan Griffin strike, and Liza Herzog added a free position shot as Middlebury broke on top.
Emily Whitney put the Gulls on the board at 21:13, but then the Panthers went on a 6-0 run in a span of 9:11. Bea Eppler started the surge at 20:40 by converting a behind-the-net Herzog feed, Alli Sciarretta sank the rebound of middie Chrissy Ritter’s shot, O’Connell netted a Herzog feed, middie Cat Lincoln tossed in a free position, Sciarretta scooped in her own rebound after being set up by Katie Ritter, and Chrissy Ritter went solo at 11:29 to make it 10-1.
At the half it was 12-4, and the Gulls never came closer than eight goals in the second half.
Katie Ritter and Lincoln were among those scoring in the second half, while Sciarretta finished with three goals and an assist. Senior Alyssa Palomba (seven saves) and sophomore Katie Mandigo (two saves in 5:17) shared time in the Middlebury goal.
Ellie Clayman scored three times for Endicott, and goalie Ryan Socolow stopped nine shots. Freshman Emily Cutting of Ferrisburgh saw time at attack for the Gulls.
The Panthers know the competition ahead will be tougher, but said they are ready.
“We have so much talent individually, if we pull together as one and play as a unit like we did today, with the attack putting goals in, the defense keeping them out, I think we can do it,” Fowler said.
Foote said her team should be able to build on Saturday’s effort.
“I thought they put together a nice game,” she said. “That helps us go into the next round of the postseason really confident.”