by Tom Utescher
Jill Sanger was a basketball player when she arrived at Chestnut Hill College in the fall of 2007, but last Wednesday night she ended her athletic career with the Griffins by scoring the first of CHC’s three overtime goals in the 2011 lacrosse season finale.
Ahead at the outset, behind early in the second half, and tied with visiting Wilmington University at the end of regulation play, Chestnut Hill went into overtime with the Wildcats with the count at 11-all. Almost midway through the six-minute OT period, Sanger scored to move the Hill women ahead, and almost immediately sophomore Lindsay Alexander raised the tally to 13-11. Wilmington got back within one, but with 2:06 remaining junior Kelly McKay converted on a free position for a 14-12 Griffins win under the lights at Victory Field.
“I wanted to end on a good note, so it felt good to put that ball in the net,” said Sanger, the lone senior on the Chestnut Hill roster. “That’s how I wanted to leave.”
With the overtime triumph, CHC avenged a 16-10 road loss to Wilmington, a fellow member of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference.
With a final conference record of 5-7, the Griffins (7-10 overall) fell short of making the CACC tournament. One of their most prolific attackers, sophomore Nicole Covella, suffered a concussion which caused her to miss five games down the stretch, and she only returned in time for the team’s final match last week.
“When she got her concussion,” Sanger related, “our team came together and people stepped up and did things they didn’t know they were capable of. When they all come back next year they’ll be hard to stop.”
Covella scored twice in Wednesday’s game, as did Sanger and sophomore Erica Eaby. Alexander and McKay each produced a hat trick for the winners, who received single strikes from sophomore Brianne Timony and freshman Kelly Campbell.
Chestnut Hill had to be glad to see the last of Wilmington senior mid Danielle Niccoli, who not only fired a game-high five goals but was a playmaker who displayed great field vision in transition.
While the save totals for CHC junior goalie Jenn Delahanty (14) and Wilmington keeper Corinne Dries (10) were not far apart, a number of Dries’ stops came on easily-tracked balls while Delahanty turned away some much more difficult shots.
It took the Wildcats a few minutes to start to put quality shots on-net, though. Delahanty easily coped with their early attempts, while the Griffins’ offense found success at the other end of the pitch.
In the opening minute, the first shot of the evening by the compact, quick Covella was partially blocked, but the deflection fooled Dries and the ball made it into the cage. McKay came from out to the left of the goal to score barely two minutes into the action, and Campbell connected to make it 3-0 with 23:46 still remaining in the first half.
Wilmington’s Niccoli romped down to score in transition at 21:05, and the visitors made slow but steady progress after that, building a 5-3 lead as the clock dropped down near the five-minute mark. After the fifth marker for their guests, the Griffins responded quickly, as Eaby located the upper left corner. The CHC sophomore netted another goal with 2:58 on the board, beating Dries on a bounce shot from the middle of the arc to create a 5-5 deadlock for the intermission.
As the second half commenced, Wilmington jumped ahead 7-5 in the first two minutes, but CHC pocketed the draw after the second strike and Alexander barreled in on the goal to get the Griffins going in the new period. Niccoli rounded out a hat trick for the visitors, and the resulting 8-6 tally remained on the scoreboard for eight minutes.
With 18:34 left in regulation play, Alexander knifed toward the goal from out to the left of the crease, making the first of five straight CHC strikes in just three-and-a-half minutes.
Wilmington never led again, but the Wildcats caught up at 11-all with four minutes remaining in the second half. The Griffins thought they might break the tie when they sent a long pass across midfield and hit Covella on the run, but the sophomore had the ball checked away from her as she penetrated the right side of the arc.
A six-minute overtime ensued, a session to be played in full with the teams reversing the direction of play after three minutes. With 2:28 elapsed, Sanger cradled in from the right side and launched a ball that wasn’t a bullet, but was aimed well enough to get past Dries. Alexander came right down off the draw to beat the Wildcats’ keeper just a dozen seconds later. CHC snapped up the next draw as well, but an attempt by Covella was stopped six seconds before the teams changed ends.
Wilmington went on the attack and Niccoli drew a foul, converting the free position with a shot to the upper right corner with 2:47 to go. Gaining possession off the next draw would be critical, and in an extended battle on the restart, players were sucked into the middle of the field, whirling like a swarm of bees. Covella eventually came up with the ball, and a few seconds later it was in the crosse of McKay when she was checked in the head by Wilmington’s Meggan Apgar. Apgar left the field with a yellow card and McKay scored from the center hashmark with 2:06 on the clock, furnishing the hosts with an insurance goal at 14-12.
Early in the final minute, Wilmington was on the move up the right wing, but an errant pass veered over the sideline. The Griffins got the ball back and ran out the remaining seconds of overtime.
Afterwards the departing Sanger acknowledged, “A lot of us haven’t played lacrosse for more than three years, including myself. All the girls are very dedicated, though, and they’re out here working hard to get better. We now have a coach [first-year skipper Katie Lee] who wants to stay here and build up our program, and that’s what the team needed.”
A few days later CHC’s Alexander was named to the All-CACC First Team, and Sanger and Covella became Second Team selections.