By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – The Catholic University women's lacrosse team was the preseason favorite to win the Landmark Conference championship. CUA left no doubt it was the class of the league Saturday at sunny Cardinal Stadium.
Freshman attack Nicolotte Crisalli scored five goals in the first half and six overall to lead 11th-ranked CUA to a 22-9 victory over Susquehanna in the Landmark title game. It was the sixth straight win for the Cardinals (14-3), whose goal total was a season high.
"We were disappointed in our last performance against Susquehanna," CUA Women's Lacrosse Coach Meghan McDonogh said of her team's 13-9 victory, "and we wanted to show what we were really capable of.
"Susquehanna runs a zone, and we found the holes a little bit better. We had a lot better off-ball movement and pushed our fastbreak. Our defense did a great job of pushing the ball in transition and finding those openings. So it was really a full team effort."
Lindsay Brophy, the Cardinals' leading scorer, tallied eight points on two goals and six assists. The first-team All-Landmark performer had a hand in six of the Cards' first seven goals after halftime.
The win is the Cardinals' seventh Landmark title in the past eight years and, although the conference does not field enough teams for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Cards are expected to host a playoff game next Saturday. The NCAA selections will be made Sunday night.
Sophomore midfielder Clair Schmitzer was named tournament MVP. McDonogh describes her as her the team's "glue," the player who does a little bit of everything well but whose contributions are not always accurately reflected in the box score.
"She does all the little things, especially these past two games," McDonogh said.
Susquehanna, which had its five-game winning streak halted, finishes 8-8. The Crusaders advanced to the championship game with a 16-10 victory at Scranton on Wednesday.
Brynn Reid, who led Susquehanna with five goals, scored twice in the opening 5:06. Her unassisted wraparound gave the Crusaders a 3-1 lead. It didn't last.
Crisalli scored from the right five yards out and then took a pass from Caroline DiBartolomeo to level the contest at 3. DiBartolomeo, another first-team All-Landmark performer, collected the ball and brought it upfield about 60 yards before locating Crisalli, who came to CUA from nearby St. John's College High School.
Crisalli's two tallies ignited a 5-0 run that put CUA up 6-3 with 14:29 to play before halftime.
"She had a great first half; she's had a great year for us," McDonogh said before joining a happy group of players, friends and parents for food, fun and fellowship. "To come in on a team that returns an entire attacking unit and earn a starting spot in the first game, as well as start the bulk of our games and be one of our leading scorers is a huge testament to her ability."
Crisalli and DiBartolomeo hooked up again a minute later, and Maddie Wilson concluded the first-half scoring when Alexis Bosilovic found her open on the right side of the crease. The Cards went into the break leading 11-5.
Brophy beat Susquehanna goalie Carolyn Figliola 25 seconds into the second half, and after Schmitzer scored, Brophy assisted on four straight goals before scoring on a free position shot. Anna Stumme punctuated her four-goal day unassisted to conclude CUA's 9-0 second half run and make it 20-5 with 12:55 remaining.
Bosilovic, second-team All-Landmark, had a game-high seven draw controls, scored twice and assisted on three others. Crisalli's six goals came on nine shots. Fellow sophomore midfielder Ana Brandenburg won four draws and scored three times.
First-team All-Landmark senior goalie Tricia Pehnke made nine saves for the Cardinals.
McDonogh said her club's tough nonconference schedule – which included a 13-12 overtime victory over two-time reigning national champion Salisbury and losses to current No. 2 Cortland, No. 20 Williams and No. 6 Franklin & Marshall – helped prepare it to win games like today's.
"Absolutely, she said. "You can learn so much more from a loss than you can from a win. I never like losing a game, but I think we got better after every single one. We were able to learn a lot and try new things, and new people stepped up every time, too.
"Why not test yourselves and figure out what your limits actually are and what your weaknesses are so you can improve them?"
The Cards dominating performance against the Crusaders is why they were once again presented with T-shirts reading, "Landmark Conference Champions."
Chris McManes was CUA's sports information director when men's and women's lacrosse began at the university in 1998. Because both teams won conference championships today, he calls it the greatest day in Cardinal lacrosse history.