By Matt Noonan
Amherst College’s women’s lacrosse team will look to capture its first national title this weekend since defeating NESCAC foe Middlebury, 11-9, in 2003 at St. John Fisher.
In order for the Jeffs to reach the championship on Sunday, they’ll have to defeat Salisbury, who captured their second Division III crown last season with a 12-5 win over Trinity (Conn.).
Tomorrow’s semifinal matchup, which will take place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, will be the fourth meeting between the Jeffs and Sea Gulls, according to the Salisbury website/game preview. Their last meeting occurred in 2007 with Salisbury claiming an 11-4 win.
“Postseason – it’s about execution (and) it’s about decreasing your unforced errors and it’s about just playing smart,” Amherst head coach Chris Paradis said in an interview following the Jeffs’ 8-5 win over TCNJ last weekend. “I think we’re doing that.
“We’ve been talking about (how) every game is going to get more challenging from here on in, so you’ve got to increase your ability to read a situation and make sure you’re making the right decision before you have the ball leave your stick.”
The Jeffs, who commenced their current campaign winning 14 straight contests, have won 19 games this season, a program-record (their most wins in program history was 18, which was set by the national championship unit from 2003). Amherst punched its ticket to the NCAA Division III semifinals by defeating TCNJ in the quarterfinals, York in third round and Bridgewater State in the second round. The Jeffs earned a first-round bye, as well as an automatic bid to the playoffs.
According to the weekend preview, which can be accessed on the team’s athletic page, Amherst has participated in the NCAA Tournament 11 times, including this season. They’re 22-9 in postseason play and making their first trip to the semifinal round since 2004.
Rachel Passarelli leads the Purple and White in points (52) on 41 goals and 11 assists, while Krista Zsitvay, who’s registered 51 points in 20 contests, ranks first in goals (43). Against TCNJ, Zsitvay led all scorers with four markers. She recorded three points against York and Bridgewater State, netting two tallies and assisting on one strike in both contests.
Amherst has outscored their opponents this postseason, 40-12, and averaging 13 goals per game. They’ve also outshot their foes, 71-39. Goaltender Christy Forrest has turned away 20 shots, including 11 against York.
Excluding their point leaders, the Jeffs will lean on their senior class this weekend, according to Paradis, who commended each player for their effort this season, both on and off the field.
“I think they’ve set the tone all year,” said Paradis. “They’ve held each other accountable, they’ve set the bar high in terms of their leadership of vocally and how they carry themselves, and they’ve just all been just phenomenal – phenomenal leaders just right down the line, all five of them.”
The Amherst senior class is made up of Zsitvay, Alex Philie, Annelies O’Dea, Caroline Holliday and Elizabeth Ludlow.
Salisbury, which is ranked second in the nation, is making its seventh appearance in the semifinals in the last eight seasons. They’ve won championships in 2010 and 2013, but came up short in 2012 against the Bantams. The Sea Gulls concluded their regular season slate undefeated for the 12th consecutive year, and earned postseason wins against Farmingdale State, Augustana (Ill.) and Franklin & Marshall.
The winner advances to Sunday’s championship against SUNY Cortland or Trinity at 2:30 p.m. The Bantams and Red Dragons will meet in the first semifinal contest, which is scheduled for 1 p.m.
“I think all along this season we knew we had something special,” said Paradis. “We knew it was within our grasp (of reaching the semifinals). The challenge was to stay focused; one game at a time and this team has managed to do that. They’ve played with a lot of heart and a lot of determination.
“It’s a dream, but at the same time I think we knew it was also definitely that was something realistic for us.”
Quick Note: Quotes for this post were courtesy of the Amherst College Athletic Department’s YouTube Channel (AmherstSports). The video was ‘Amherst vs. TCNJ.’