In a clash of defensive styles, No. 2 Middlebury broke through first and rode an early four-goal lead to a 10-9 victory over No. 5 Amherst in the Division III women's lacrosse national championship yesterday at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field.
The Panthers, who finished 17-0 and won their second title in three years, slipped free against Amherst's tight-marking man-to-man defense to pump in four goals in the first nine minutes.
The Jeffs (14-3) had trouble executing against the Panthers' zone defense early, although they climbed back to within one by halftime. Amherst's defense held the Panthers scoreless for the last 21: 19 of the half.
Still, the Jeffs, who have not beaten Middlebury since 1983, could never pull even. Each time they mounted a comeback, the Panthers had an answer, eventually running the lead back to 8-5 with 17: 47 left in the game.
In the last two minutes, the Jeffs were still playing catch-up.
Amherst's Sarah Scheessele, who scored a game-high five goals, netted her last goal with a strong move from right to left through the arc to pull within 10-9 with 1: 19 left.
After the Jeffs won the next draw, Scheessele again took the ball to the right of the arc with 30 seconds left. She looked to feed into the middle, but Middlebury's zone would not let her get the pass off.
Ali Connolly checked the ball away from Scheessele. Jen Corso retained possession for Amherst, but only briefly. Missy Hopkins checked the ball from Corso and Panthers teammate and tournament MVP Heidi Howard snatched the ground ball.
"There were a couple really tough plays at the end when Amherst was trying to get through the zone, but we would have a triple team and checks were flying," said Hopkins, a Garrison Forest graduate. "The ball just wouldn't stay in Amherst's stick if they were inside the eight meter."
The Jeffs, making their first final four appearance, missed many second-half opportunities. They often had cutters wide open in the middle of the zone, but could not get the ball to them.
Leading 9-8, Middlebury escaped a couple of turnovers and some sloppy ball-handling through a four-minute scoreless period late in the game. Panthers goalie Katie Samson, who finished with 13 saves, stopped Irene Permut's free-position shot and Connolly came up with the ground ball.
The Panthers quickly passed the ball downfield and Katherine Rodormer converted on transition with an assist from Julia Bergofsky. That goal turned out to be the game-winner, giving the Panthers a 10-8 edge with 2: 29 left.
For coach Missy Foote and nine of her Panthers, including senior Hopkins, this was the second national title this school year. They also won the Division III field hockey championship last fall.
Amherst 3 6 -- 9
Middlebury 4 6 -- 10
Goals: A--Scheessele 5, Osborn 2, Poulin, Stechenberg; M--Howard 2, Hagerman 2, Rodormer 2, Bergofsky, Martin, Wheeler, Dripps. Assists: A--Osborn, Corso; M--Bergofsky. Saves: A--Thaxton 8, Samson 13.
Pub Date: 5/17/99