After collecting some of its biggest wins of the season during a six-game road trip, the College’s lacrosse team was finally able to give the home crowd something to cheer for, defeating Montclair State University 18-5 to win the New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship.
The win gave the Lions their second NJAC title in three years and was certainly a moment of redemption: the team lost out on the title last year at home when Rowan University downed the Lions 12-11.
“It feels really good, especially after losing to Rowan last year. That (game) was such a heartbreaker to lose by one goal,” senior midfielder Ali Jaeger said. “This year we just wanted to come out and prove that we were the more dominant team (on the field) and the most dominant team in the NJAC.”
The Lions have certainly proven their dominance time after time this season, as they’ve propelled themselves to a 16-0 record and the top spot in Division III.
It’s easy to point out Jaeger and junior midfielder Leigh Mitchell — who were both honored before the game alongside alumnae Lauren Dougher and Liz O’Connor for their record-breaking seasons — as the artists behind this masterpiece. However, according to Jaeger, for most of the season, the Lions have relied on a balanced attack.
“(Balance) has pretty much been what this whole season has been about,” Jaeger said. “We’ve really tried to focus on having everyone contribute, whether you’re a veteran or a freshman. Everyone has stepped up, and that’s what makes us such a powerful team. Everyone is a threat.”
That parity showcased itself in the College’s victory over the Red Hawks, as six Lions scored at least one goal, and five of those six scored three or more.
As expected, the experienced upperclassmen — Jaeger, Mitchell and junior midfielder Kathleen Notos — combined for 11 goals, but it was the underclassmen that really put an exclamation point on the win.
Sophomore attacker Jillian Nealon chipped in three goals, while freshman midfielder Lauren Pigott collected a goal and an assist.
But it was freshman attacker Jen Garavente who led the underclassmen in this one.
Garavente didn’t take long to get herself a point, as she assisted Mitchell’s first goal 28 seconds into the contest. She then followed that assist with three goals and one more assist over the remainder of the game.
“I think with the hours that we’ve practiced that we’ve all just connected really well,” Garavente said. “We really hit it off in the beginning of the season and we’ve been able to keep that up.”
The freshman class has been crucial to the Lions’ success and has performed without fail since the first win of the season over Frostburg State University on March 5.
Garavente, Pigott and first-year attacker Alex Spark have built on that initial game in a Lion uniform by stepping up when called upon during the Lions undefeated streak, while being able to shake the nerves that most new players might encounter.
“As soon as we gain momentum, the nerves go away and you just get excited and want to continue to play well,” Garavente said. “I think leading up to (big games) there are some nerves, but as soon as we start playing our game, it goes away.”
The Lions will need that kind of attitude from all their players, with No. 9 Stevens Institute of Technology waiting in the wings and the national playoffs slowly approaching. Even with the NJAC title in hand, the season will be a disappointment — for at least one Lion — unless the College finishes its playoff run unscathed.
“I’m not graduating without a national championship. That’s what I’ve decided,” Jaeger said. “It really doesn’t matter what kind of records you break — it’s really about the team accomplishment. I just want to celebrate with my team at the end of the season with a national title in our hands.”
Brandon Gould can be reached at email@example.com.