By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – The preseason prognosticators didn't think that highly of the Catholic University women's lacrosse team.
They do now.
The Cardinals, unranked before the season, achieved their highest national ranking ever. The Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA), in its final NCAA Division III rankings, judged CUA the sixth-best team in the country. Lacrosse Magazine tabbed the Cardinals No. 5.
"This is really a testament to the hard work the team put in," CUA Coach Meghan McDonogh said. "From the time our 2014 season ended, they felt like they had something to prove.
"All of that work paid off and was validated with our highest ranking ever."
The Cards (16-4) romped through the Landmark Conference, winning all eight games and taking home their seventh league championship. They won two games in the NCAA Tournament by wide margins and lost by a mere goal on eventual national champion Cortland (N.Y.) State's home field. Before that national semifinals defeat, they had won eight in a row.
"While we've had other great seasons and players, we probably exhibited our highest level of team play ever," McDonogh said. "Every person that stepped on the field in any given game brought something to the table, and it was a complete team effort. We might not have had some of the typical stars we've had in the past, but from a team standpoint, our play was highly elevated."
CUA set the tone for the season with a 13-12 overtime victory over two-time reigning national champion Salisbury (Md.). Each of the Cardinals' four defeats came against teams ranked in the top 20 at game time, as did two of their wins. The triumph over Salisbury was the 18-year program's first over a No. 1 team.
Six of the Cards' opponents finished the season ranked by Lacrosse Magazine among the nation's Top 20: Cortland (No. 1), Franklin & Marshall (3), York, Pa. (7), Salisbury (12), Mount Union (19) and Williams (20).
CUA was the only team in the country to defeat Mount Union, downing the Purple Raiders in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game, 21-8.
An Outstanding Collection of Players
Tori Neill and Anna Stumme added to their first-team All-Chesapeake Region honors by being named All-American. Stumme landed on the third team (IWLCA), and Neill was recognized as a second-team All-American.
In addition, Pehnke and DiBartolomeo have been selected to play in the IWLCA Division III North-South Senior All-Star Game in Radnor, Pa. on Saturday June 6.
Among CUA's multiple honorees, only Stumme and Bosilovic are returning. McDonogh has been recruiting hard since the season ended in an attempt to keep the Cardinals perched among the nation's elite.
"We've been fortunate to always draw some high-caliber athletes and, more importantly, truly special people" said McDonogh, whose first season at CUA was in 2008. "I think the difference now is that we're attracting a larger number of those student-athletes and are better able to find ones that best fit our program."
A Promising Future
McDonogh has four times guided the Cards to the regional finals. She would like to join the CUA men's basketball team – which captured the 2001 National Championship – as the school's only two programs to advance to the Final Four.
"It's going to take a continued commitment to improvement every day, as well as a bit of luck because when you get to that point in the season, any team can win on any given day," she said. "This group improved so much throughout the season and I think finally understands they can compete, and even beat any team in the country.
"On the flip side, they realize they have to do more than show up because wins aren't always guaranteed."
The bar has been set high in Brookland.
"Our seniors have built a great legacy for our returning players and newcomers to live up to," McDonogh said. "The foundation has been set for even greater success."
Chris McManes is a member of the CUA Hall of Fame selection committee.