Sophomore defender Jennamarie Colicchia eyed up her opponent, recognized her opportunity and seized it.
With the College up 8-2 in the second half, Colicchia poked the ball loose from her mark and began the Lions’ attack. After clearing the ball, the Lions ended their surge with a goal from junior attacker Alex Spark, who led the lacrosse team with five scores.
That sequence was the poster child of a defensive gem that the No. 4-ranked Lions posted yesterday as they cruised to a 14-5 victory over No. 17-ranked Elizabethtown College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I think defense really did a good job with high pressure and forcing them into mistakes and then we capitalized on those mistakes,” said sophomore attacker Jen Garavente.
The game did not start off well for the Lions as the Blue Jays won the opening draw control, but head coach Sharon Pfluger’s group quickly turned the tide.
Sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Zinck made a move outside her crease, intercepted a pass and sent the ball off to the attack. Pfluger came away impressed by her first-year starter’s early aggressiveness and her overall performance — she added four saves on top of three ground balls.
“Every game was a new experience for Kelsey this year, but now I think she is feeling very confident, not over confident, just comfortable,” Pfluger said.
Garavente, who netted four goals, would miss the Lions’ first shot attempt after Zinck’s interception, but her hustle allowed her to force a turnover and keep the ball in the Lions’ hands. The result of that exertion came 24 seconds later when sophomore midfielder Lauren Pigott sent one past Blue Jays goalkeeper Rachael Waldman.
Pigott was productive for the Lions on offense, scoring three times, but her defensive effort was where she really stood out. The midfielder, who was recently voted the New Jersey Athletic Conference’s Defender of the Year, collected four draw controls, two caused turnovers and a ground ball in the victory.
“Lauren Piggott is a great player for us. She’s a terrific athlete, she works hard and she’s a great kid,” Pfluger said. “I really can’t say enough about her. She’s the perfect fit for our program. Even last year when she was a freshman, I was saying to the assistants, ‘I feel like Piggott has been here forever.’ Right away she was playing like a senior last year and what’s really great is this is what she always wanted.”
Fellow midfielder Kathleen Notos was also a staple on defense, compiling four caused turnovers, three draw controls and two ground balls.
As a team, the Lions forced the Blue Jays into nine turnovers and scooped up a total of 19 ground balls. Although they were outdone on the draw controls — the Blue Jays held an 11-10 edge — the Lions held their opponent to scoreless stretches of 18:27 and 24:11 during the contest.
“I think the last two days we had good practice and we were really focused coming in together as a team,” Pigott said. “We really helped each other out and saw the double and saw the opportunities where we could crash in. I think overall we just had really good communication and had each other’s back.”
Pfluger reiterated that thought in her analysis of the defense’s performance.
“I think they were really working very well together,” Pfluger said. “They were reading what each other’s girl was doing so they knew when to slide, when to hold and what to force. I think we played really nice team defense. It was a nice group effort.”
On offense, Spark was the centerpiece of an attack that had five players tally at least one score.
“She reads the situation well, she reads a lot of our players well and she reads the defense well,” Pfluger said. “Her perception and her game sense is very keen.”
Beside Garavente and Pigott, Notos and junior attacker Jillian Nealon each registered a score. While senior midfielder Leigh Mitchell did not score a goal, she produced three assists.
“I think we were really just seeing each other well,” Garavente said. “The credit really goes to your teammates because they’re the ones passing to you.”
With the Blue Jays behind them, the Lions now look ahead to their matchup Saturday, May 12, at 3:30 p.m. against No. 7-ranked Amherst College (13-4) in Cortland, N.Y.