Finishing Strong

N.A.S.

by Sean Begin

With Tanya Kotowicz taking over the women’s lacrosse program before the 2015 season, it wasn’t surprising to see the team start slow.

The team started 1-5 and didn’t record their first home win until March 25 against Quinnipiac, their fourth home game and ninth overall.

But after settling into Kotowicz’s style of play, the team finished strong, winning three of its last four games and concluding with a 9-7 victory of second-place Wagner on Sunday.

“Getting used to a new culture, a new coach, a new system, we finally started to peak at the right time. And we fell short in three games by one goal,” said Kotowicz after Sunday’s win. “In one goal games you’re either on one end or the other, and unfortunately we were on the wrong end. So I think more than anything, they just keep believing and it started to pay off.”

Central defeated Mount St. Mary’s 9-8 on Friday night, after scoring the last three goals of the game to come from behind and win 9-8. Senior goalkeeper Morgan Tullar recorded a save with less than five seconds on the clock to ensure the Central victory.

On Sunday, a similar story played out.

With 19:08 left to play, Wagner took a two-goal lead on Jessica Mills’ third goal of the game, putting Central down 7-5. But Central would score twice in the next two-and-a-half minutes to tie the game at seven, on goals from junior Madison Hughes and sophomore Marissa Soto.

A little over two minutes after Soto’s game tying goal, her classmate Erin Dougherty put home what proved to be the game-winning goal on an assist from junior Falynn McCartney. Sophomore Jessica Giangarra added an insurance goal with 6:33 left to go.

Wagner failed to score in the last 19 minutes of the game thanks in part to great goalkeeping by Tullar, who had two big saves in the last three minutes of play to help preserve Central’s two-goal lead. Kotowicz also made a defensive change that seemed to stymie Wagner’s offense.

“They got used to one of our zone [defenses] we play, so we switched it to more of a man defense and just kind of gave them a different look, and they just weren’t able to adjust,” said Kotowicz.

Tullar and fellow seniors Brigit Hogan and Jessica Sudock were honored in a small ceremony with their families before the win, finishing both the season and the match on high notes.

“It couldn’t have ended better if we had to end this way,” said Kotowicz. “We would have loved to be in the tournament, and we will expect to be in the tournament from here on out, but today they controlled [what they had to]. We had two more games left and we had to make sure they were wins, for our seniors especially.”

Central finished the season with a 6-10 overall record and a 3-4 record in conference play, which actually put them in a four-way tie for fourth place with LIU-Brooklyn, Robert Morris and Sacred Heart. All three teams owned the tiebreaker over Central, meaning the team will miss the NEC tournament in Kotowicz’s first season, something she doesn’t intend to let happen again.

“I don’t ever want this program to be comfortable outside the tournament,” she said. “We’re bringing back a lot of players, but we’re going to expect a lot more out of them next year.”

Central’s top six goal scorers are all returning next season, including Hughes (24), McCartney (20), Soto (17) and Dougherty (11). Sophomore Alexandra Hooker (22) and freshman Kylie Sullivan (14) round out a strong returning attack and midfield.

With none of the defense graduating, the only question mark for Central heading into the offseason is goalie. Tullar graduates as the program’s leader in wins with 22, and will leave a gaping hole between the pipes that Kotowicz will need to fill.

With no backup currently on the roster, that means either a transfer, a freshman or a current player making a position change will fulfill that duty for Central next year, something to watch closely when the 2016 season rolls around.