Women’s lacrosse sees NCAA championship bid halted in first round
Despite a successful season that led to a share of the Ivy League title, women's lacrosse lost against Penn and Colorado.
After earning a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013, the women’s lacrosse team fell in the first round by a score of 16-13 to the University of Colorado Boulder.
The team sat squarely on the bubble when the field of 28 teams was announced last Sunday after a devastating 15-14 loss to the University of Pennsylvania in the Ivy League Tournament semifinals on May 3. After trailing by four goals with under eight minutes remaining, the Big Green cut the lead to one with three unanswered goals in just over three minutes. The teams traded goals, and a costly penalty and late turnover on an offsides call allowed the Quakers to run out the clock and advance to the Ivy League final.
Two days following the loss to Penn, the Dartmouth players gathered in their film room to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show. Attacker Kierra Sweeney ’19 said the team was nervous as the bracket was revealed.
“Even though we knew we had put ourselves in a good place to likely get a bid, nothing is certain when it comes to at-large bids, and there are so many great teams out there,” she said. “The room erupted in cheerings when our name flashed across the screen ... Obviously, bringing the program back to the NCAA tournament is a huge achievement, and we [were] grateful to be a part of it and make the program alumni proud.”
Midfielder Emma Lesko ’21 said making the tournament was even sweeter after falling just short of a tournament berth a year ago.
“Last year, we thought we had a chance and we didn’t get it, so we were really bummed,” she said. “This year, we were all together in our film room ready to watch. Nobody really knew what was going to happen, which made it really exciting. We were literally one of the last names to get called, and everyone erupted in excitement.”
The Big Green made the field, slated to play Colorado in a first-round matchup on Boston College’s home field in Newtown, MA. The tournament berth was the first in six years for Dartmouth and marked head coach Danielle Spencer’s first appearance in the national tournament with the Big Green.
“It was super exciting,” Lesko said. “It’s kind of hard to put into words, but we haven’t done it years. Seeing how far the program is progressing each year is extremely exciting.”
The Big Green played from behind for most of Friday’s first half against the Buffaloes. Dartmouth won 10 of 15 draw controls in the half, but the Big Green’s eight turnovers allowed Colorado to build a two-goal lead with under five minutes remaining in the half. The Big Green used a Colorado penalty to cut the deficit in half, as attacker Ellie Carson ’20 scored on the advantage. Less than one minute later, attacker Kellen D’Alleva ’19 found the back of the net for her first of three goals on the day, and the teams entered the second half tied at seven goals apiece.
The Big Green jumped into the lead at the start of the second half, building a 12-10 lead when Sweeney scored her 58th goal of the year. The Buffaloes, however, found their stride and surged in the final minutes of the game, scoring six of the game’s final seven goals. Carson finished with four goals, and goaltender Kiera Vrindten ’20 made seven saves, but the Big Green only scored twice in the game’s final 20 minutes, and the Buffaloes advanced to the second round of the tournament with a 16-13 victory.
Sweeney said she was proud of the way the team fought despite struggling to find an offensive rhythm.
“I think the team stayed really connected throughout the game,” Sweeney said. “That is always a strength of the Dartmouth program.”
Lesko said that despite the loss, she was happy with how the Big Green played.
“I don’t think we could have played any better,” she said. “Sometimes shots don’t fall and the game doesn’t go your way, but we showed a lot of heart and played as a team, and it was really fun to play that way for our last game.”
This year was one of the most successful seasons for the program in recent memory. The team won a share of the regular season Ivy League championship, the team’s 12th in program history and first title since 2011. Eight players earned All-Ivy honors, and Spencer was named co-coach of the year in the conference for the second consecutive season. The team’s 245 goals in the regular season were a new program record and Carson set a single-season program record for assists while Kathryn Giroux ’19 finished 11th in NCAA history with 418 draw controls throughout her career.
Sweeney characterized the season as “record-breaking.”
“This team has brought Dartmouth lacrosse back to where it used to be and beyond,” she said. “This season, we broke numerous program records and pushed the program to new standards. Getting an Ivy League title has been a goal the entire time I’ve been on the team, and to finally achieve it my senior season felt amazing.”
Lesko said this year’s team had a special bond, which translated to success on the field.
“We just have really good chemistry, which I think boils down to how much we love each other,” she said. “There’s no animosity on the team. We just enjoy each other’s presence and hang out all the time, and I think that contributed to us being able to play as a team on the field, which is one of our biggest strengths.”
The team chemistry was sparked by the leadership of the team’s nine seniors. Goaltender Becca Wade ’22 said all of the seniors are leaders in different aspects of lacrosse.
“Every day, they pushed us to be the best lacrosse players we could be and the best people to represent the program,” Wade said. “I don’t think any other class could have done that so well.”
Lesko agrees with Wade and described the senior class as invaluable.
“They’re so close, and their love for Dartmouth and the women’s lacrosse program is infectious,” Lesko said. “It’s an honor to have them as our seniors this year. They’re absolutely fearless leaders, and it was awesome to see them work together.”
While the Big Green will miss the contributions and leadership of the seniors, the team hopes to use this season’s success to propel them in the near future. Lesko said it is crucial to continue to build off of this year’s success.
“It’s easy to get complacent after such a good season, but I think it shows what we can do and that we can make it to the NCAAs,” Lesko said. “I hope that other teams start to realize that we’re someone to take seriously, and I just want to do better from here.”
Wade said she is confident in the team’s ability to continue to take steps towards greater success.
“[Spencer] said it very well when she said these are the building blocks for future success,” she said. “This won’t be the last time we make the NCAA tournament. This is us just getting our feet in the water.”