By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Women's lacrosse players drop their sticks after scoring a goal. Catholic University made an early habit of the practice Sunday at sun-splashed Cardinal Stadium.
The No. 10 Cardinals soared to a 9-0 lead in the first six minutes and 58 seconds by controlling play in all facets and won handily, 22-5, over Western New England in a second-round NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Championship game.
CUA (15-3) advances to play undefeated and 18th-ranked Mount Union (18-0) on Saturday May 16 in a Sweet 16 game at Cortland (N.Y.) State. The Landmark Conference Championship-winning Cards have won seven in a row and are peaking at the right time.
"Our team is really coming together." CUA Head Coach Meghan McDonogh said. "We're all on the same wavelength in everything – on the field and off the field. Everything is really coming together nicely."
Anna Stumme paced the Cardinal scoring machine with four goals. Lindsay Brophy and Nicolettte Crisalli added three each, and Laura Dunn had four assists and a goal for a game-high five points. Four other players (Alexis Bosilovic, Madeline Wilson, Jenna Van Middleton and Ana Brandenburg) tallied two goals apiece.
McDonogh is pleased with how well her team shares the ball and doesn't care who scores, as long as it results in victory. The Cards took a 16-0 lead into halftime.
"We are a very unselfish team," she said. "Especially in the first half, so many of our goals (nine) were assisted. We just played such pretty lacrosse that first half; it didn't seem normal.
"It was pretty awesome."
WNE Coach Aimee Klepacki's club was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007. Both teams lost to Williams, their only common opponent.
"I thought Catholic was very beatable, watching them on film and talking to the Williams' coach," Klepacki said. "We just didn't come out on fire."
The Cardinals were scorching from the opening draw, which the Golden Bears won but threw the ball away without taking a shot.
Crisalli got the stick-dropping parade started 1:40 into the game when Landmark Tournament MVP Clair Schmitzer found her wide open on the left side. (Goal-scoring players are required to let their sticks go following a goal so the referees can make sure they're legal.)
Brophy scored on a free position shot at the 27:21 mark to begin a four-goal barrage in the next 1:31. Crisalli's second tally, off a Dunn feed, made it 5-0 with 25:50 to go before the break.
"Our mentality was to set the tone and go out there and make a statement," McDonogh said. "We were very focused."
Stumme collected a hat trick at 23:53 and added one for good measure seven-and-a-half minutes later to push the lead to 11-0. Van Middleton converted a pass from Emily Merkel with 15.3 seconds remaining to close the first-half scoring.
The Cardinals' 22 goals matched their season high from last week's Landmark Championship game victory.
WNE, winners of the Commonwealth Coast Conference, had won four straight and 12 of 13. It entered the contest with a 16-2 record and was expected to give CUA a tough game. Senior Jessica Scannapieco is the NCAA's all-time all-division leader in draw controls, and Kaitlynn Stevens leads the nation in points (133).
"We didn't know what to expect, but we knew they had the leader in draw controls, as well as the points leader and two other 80-plus points scorers," McDonogh said. "I'm psyched that we did a really good job on those players, which is what we were focused on."
McDonogh praised the job senior defender Katie Burton did on Stevens, who was held to one shot and zero points. "She did an amazing job," the eighth-year coach said.
Allie Bond came up big in the center circle facing off against Scannapieco. The Golden Bears' senior midfielder entered play averaging an NCAA-high 9.83 draw controls per game. Bond ended up controlling 11 to her vaunted rival's two. The Cards had a 12-5 advantage on draw controls in the decisive first half and 18-11 overall.
"All around," Klepacki said, "we just didn't play our best game."
WNE's Brooke Kumnick scored the first two goals of the second half before CUA rang off four straight to make it 20-2. Taylor Scialdone's two goals and Scannapieco's one rounded out the Golden Bear scoring.
The Cards took 30 of the 33 first-half shots and 37 of 54 overall. Starting goalie Tricia Pehnke allowed two goals and had four saves. Britnee Frizol defended the net for the final 9:18 and recorded a pair of saves.
The Cardinals move on to the regional semifinals for the first time since going 16-6 in 2012, and the club's eight seniors will miss graduation next Saturday. Sunday's triumph was CUA's first in the NCAA playoffs in three years.
"It feels great, especially for the senior class," McDonogh said. "They were freshmen in 2012, and they have really great memories of that year. They want to do at least that well, if not better."
Chris McManes used to cover the Maryland women's lacrosse team for the Prince George's (Md.) Journal.