The Middlebury College women's lacrosse team heads to the NCAA final four for the third time in the last four years, as the third-ranked Panthers (20-1) take on eighth-ranked Wesleyan (17-3) at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 25 in Ashland, Virginia. The other contest on Day Field features fourth-ranked Tufts against seventh-ranked Salisbury. The winners of Saturday's games will battle Sunday at 2:00 p.m. for the national championship.
Middlebury earned an automatic bid to the tournament, claiming its 10th NESCAC title with a 10-9 come-from-behind victory over #5 Tufts. The team opened in NCAA play with a 22-3 victory over Johnson & Wales in the second round of the tournament. The Panthers outshot the Wildcats 39-13 in the game, receiving goals from 10 different players. Lily Riseberg paced the winners with five goals and one assist, while Kate Zecca tallied four times with one helper.
Middlebury knocked off a pair of ranked opponents in the regional round, topping #14 Bowdoin 18-9 followed by a 16-4 triumph over #5 Franklin & Marshall. In the win over Bowdoin, Jane Earley paced Middlebury with four goals to go along with four ground balls, two draw controls and two caused turnovers. Against F&M, the hosts never trailed and utilized three five-goal runs to advance into the semifinals. Nine different players netted goals in the victory with Earley once again leading the charge, this time with six points on four goals and two assists.
The Panthers are making their 25th appearance in the tournament with a record of 64-18 in NCAA play since they first qualified for the tourney in 1994. The program's .780 NCAA winning percentage is higher than all but one team (The College of New Jersey) in the history of Division III lacrosse. Middlebury won NCAA titles in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2016, advancing to the final four every year from 1994-2007 (14 years). The Panthers returned to the final four in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2018.
The Panthers suffered an 11-10 overtime loss in the season opener to Bates, but have been on a roll ever since. Middlebury boasts a 20-game winning streak, which is the longest in Division III. The team's offense ranks third in the NESCAC, scoring 14.29 goals per contest, while boasting the conference's top defense at 6.61 goals allowed per game and is first in caused turnovers at 232. This season, the Panthers are 14-0 against ranked teams.
Attacker Emma McDonagh spearheads the Middlebury offense, leading the team in goals (54) and points (71). The two-time All-NESCAC First-Team selection and three-time all-region honoree has posted back-to-back 50 goal seasons and ranks fourth in goals and is tied for fourth in points in the conference. She has recorded at least one point in 20-21 games this spring, including a six-goal and eight-point effort in a win over Plymouth State. McDonagh is one of the most prolific scorers in program history, ranking ninth in career goals with 160 and eighth with 215 points.
Emily Barnard is another proven scorer on attack, posting a career-high 43 goals and 62 points. Twice this season, she has scored five times in a contest and in a late-season NESCAC win over Williams, she tallied two goals with four assists for a career-high six points. With her three goals and four points against F&M, Barnard eclipsed 100-career points with 74 goals and 29 assists. Through three games of the NCAA Tournament, she has 13 points on seven goals and six assists.
Earley has made an impact in her first season with the Panthers, garnering All-NESCAC Second-Team and first-team all-region honors. She ranks second on the team in goals (45) and third in assists (16) and points (61), while adding 39 draw controls and 24 ground balls. Her biggest game this season came in the NESCAC Championship, as she tallied five goals and three assists.
Jenna McNicholas is another scoring threat, entering the final weekend of the season with 25 goals, two shy of matching her career high set in 2018.
Midfielder Erin Nicholas, an IWLCA All-Region and All-NESCAC First-Team selection, has contributed in a number of areas for Middlebury this season. She has a team-high 69 draw controls, to go along with 24 caused turnovers, 33 ground balls, and 22 goals. Erica Barr (47 DC), Casey O'Neill (41 DC) and Henley Hall (21) have also been pivotal in getting possession for the Panthers from the midfield position.
On defense, Addy Mitchell leads the NESCAC in both ground balls (64) and caused turnovers (43), while earning a spot on the all-conference and all-region first teams. Her ground ball total is a program single-season record, while she is tied for the school mark in caused turnovers this spring. Emma White (40) and Alex White (35), who both received all-region accolades, each rank among the team leaders in ground balls, while Susanna Baker has chipped in with 22 ground balls and 19 caused turnovers. In the last 16 games, Middlebury's defensive unit has held the opposition to single digits in goals.
Julia Keith has emerged as the starter in goal, recording an 18-1 record with a conference-leading 6.28 goals against average. That total also ranks fifth nationally. She posted a career-high 11 saves in a win at #8 York (Pa) earlier this spring and has not allowed double figures to an opponent in her 21 appearances, helping her garner all-region recognition. Kate Furber has also seen plenty of playing time and has two victories with a 7.34 GAA.
Middlebury head coach Kate Livesay is in her fourth season at the helm of the program. In her first year, she led the team to its first NCAA Championship since 2004, with a school record 22 wins against just one loss. This spring, the team has been ranked in the top 10 all year, entering the regional round of the tournament with a 20-1 mark. Livesay came to Middlebury from Trinity, where she served as the head coach for eight seasons, amassing a career record of 127-26 (.830), including the 2012 NCAA Championship. In four seasons at Middlebury, she is 78-10 and earned her 200th career win earlier this spring with a victory over Bates in the NESCAC Quarterfinals.
Earlier this season, the Panthers scored the game's final two goals for an 8-7 road win over the Cardinals back in March. Since the conference opponents began playing each on a yearly basis in 2001, Middlebury has won each of the 19 meetings, while this marks the first time the programs have met in the postseason. The Panthers played at Salisbury earlier this spring, coming away with an 11-6 triumph. The Sea Gulls have won six of the nine meetings against Middlebury. The Panthers and Tufts have already met twice this season, with Middlebury winning 10-9 during the regular season and again by that same score in the NESCAC Championship. In 24 previous meetings with the Jumbos, Middlebury has picked up 20 victories.
2019 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Semifinals
Saturday, May 25 – Ashland, Va.
#8 Wesleyan (17-3) vs. #3 Middlebury (20-1) – 11:30 a.m.
#4 Tufts (19-2) vs. #6 Salisbury (19-3) – 2:30 p.m.
2019 NCAA Women's Lacrosse National Championship
Sunday, May 26 – Ashland, Va.
Wesleyan/Middlebury winner vs. Tufts/Salisbury winner – 2:00 p.m.