Local players, Vanderbilt take dream run to heart

14 from Baltimore area lead a mission to keep winning, playing together

NCAA Women's Lacrosse Final Four

May 21, 2004|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Michelle Allen can point to the exact moment she and her Vanderbilt women's lacrosse teammates turned into national championship contenders.

Immediately after a 14-13 double-overtime loss to Hofstra on May 4, the Commodores realized their season could be headed for an abrupt end.

"At that moment we were either going to give up and concede the season or we were going to fight for a chance to win our conference and go on," said Allen, a senior midfielder and one of 14 Baltimore-area women on a roster of 25.

They opted to go on.

On May 6, the Commodores edged Northwestern, 10-9 in overtime, to win the American Lacrosse Conference championship and its automatic berth in the NCAA Division I tournament.

A week later, they slipped by Loyola, 5-4, and then surprised James Madison, 10-4, to reach the final four for the first time in the nine-year history of Vanderbilt women's lacrosse.

The Cinderella team in this year's final four, the Commodores had been to the tournament once before -- a first-round loss in 2002.

They now join two-time defending champion Princeton, last year's runner-up Virginia and Georgetown in tonight's semifinals. The Commodores have the toughest draw, taking on No. 1 Princeton and its 27-game winning streak at 6 p.m. at Princeton Stadium.

Of course the Commodores want a national title, but the ultimate motivation for their late-season surge comes from something more personal. With nine seniors on the team, they simply do not want to stop playing together.

"Every day, I look at my teammates and I think, I don't want this to be the last day I play lacrosse, and I don't want it to be the last day I play with you," said defender Bridget Morris. "There's an overwhelming sense of purpose. We're on a mission every day, because we don't want that to be the last day."

Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker, whose Blue Jays slipped by the Commodores, 12-11, in a conference game on April 4, attributed Vanderbilt's climb to its senior leadership. The senior class includes four of the Commodores' top five scorers -- Allen (the ALC Player of the Year), Lauren Peck, Jess Roguski and Kelly Devlin.

"If there was ever going to be a year when they were going to see a lot of success it would be this year ... " Tucker said, "They've always been a very good team, but their experience is what took over in the end."

Junior goalie Ashley Bastinelli had two of her best performances in the tournament, saving 13 shots at Loyola and 15 at James Madison and holding both teams to four goals. Loyola had been averaging 11.6 goals; James Madison, 13.1.

"I've been getting a lot of credit these last few games, but the shots these teams are getting off, I don't think are the ones they'd like to have," Bastinelli said. "They're getting a lot of low angle shots, and that's because our defense has really stepped up. Everyone is being accountable for their play."

One of the key defenders has been Morris, who matched up against the nation's leading scorer, James Madison's Gail Decker, averaging 6.06 points, and held her to two goals and one assist.

"After the Hostra game, we found what works for us and it all fell into place. I feel the support of my teammates on every play and on defense in particular that's important. Playing as a unit is the most important thing for any defense," said Morris, who has gotten plenty of help from Christiana Serle, Joanna Mooney, Molly Frew, Kim Gianis and Jenny Wing.

As the Commodores prepare to meet Princeton tonight, they cherish the underdog role.

"Princeton obviously has the tradition and it's a privilege to play them," Bastinelli said. "We all admire the players on that team and the program they have, but we're hoping to be them one day."

"Our kids have a lot to play for," said seven-year Commodores coach Cathy Swezey, "and sometimes it's easier to fight to get your way to the top than it is to stay at the top."

Princeton is so heavily favored that the only pressure the Commodores expect tonight is the overwhelming desire to play one last game together -- Sunday's national final.

"We play much better with pressure," Roguski said. "The games we had to win to keep playing -- even in the regular season -- are the ones our team showed up for. I don't know what it is about our team, but we just like to fight."

Women's final four

At Princeton (N.J.) Stadium

Today

Division I semifinals

No. 1 Princeton vs. No. 11 Vanderbilt, 6 p.m.

No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 6 Georgetown, 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Division I final

Semifinal winners, 2 p.m.

Baltimore Commodores

Graduates of Baltimore-area high schools playing for Vanderbilt's women's lacrosse team:

Starters

Name Class Pos. High school

Michelle Allen Sr. M Liberty

Ashley Bastinelli Jr. G Friends

Kelly Devlin Sr. A Maryvale

Molly Frew Fr. D Roland Park

Kate Hickman So. A Severna Park

Joanna Mooney Sr. M Roland Park

Bridget Morris Sr. D Notre Dame Prep

Lauren Peck Sr. A Broadneck

Jess Roguski Sr. M Liberty

Reserves

Alexandra Lemons Fr. M Mount Hebron

Kendall Thrift Fr. A Franklin

Brooke Shinaberry Fr. G Severna Park

Meg Spies Jr. M St. Paul's

Ashley Zaleski Fr. D Broadneck

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