Albany takes America East title
Battaglia's five goals, two assists lead Great Danes to victory
Albany, N.Y. - Jodi Battaglia had five goals and two assists in leading Albany to an 11-4 victory against UMBC and capturing its first-ever America East Conference championship on Saturday, May 7 at John Fallon Field. The Great Danes, who are ranked No. 8 in the IWLCA poll, earned the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance at the Division I level.
Albany (17-0) broke open a tight game in the first half with a string of five unanswered goals over a span of six minutes and 49 seconds. After UMBC (11-7) tied the contest at two apiece, Nikki Branchini won the following draw to set up the offensive possession. Battaglia, the championship's most outstanding player, cut to the right of the crease and scored off Taylor Frink's pass from behind the cage.
Amanda Pollock and Ariana Parker added unassisted goals for a 5-2 advantage. Pollock bounced a free-position attempt through the goalkeeper's legs. Jess Antelmi's caused turnover and ground ball led to a successful clear by Parker, and the freshman drove to the net for the goal. Frink, who became the school's career assists leader in the contest, was involved in the next two scoring plays. She set up Battaglia by knifing a diagonal pass from behind the net to the right of the crease. The senior attacker then sent a free-position shot inside the right post with a sidearm delivery.
The Great Danes, who will make the NCAA field as the nation's only unbeaten squad, scored three more times in the opening eight minutes of the final period to build a 10-2 margin. Battaglia, who tied a season-best with seven points, rolled inside a defender from the left side, before finding a cutting Rachael Burek one minute and three seconds later. Working from a spread attacker, Parker, who had two goals and one assists, moved in from the left to deposit a shot on the near side.
Meanwhile, Albany's defense held the Retrievers off the scoreboard for more than 46 minutes. Freshman goalkeeper Anna Berman had four saves and robbed Alicia Krause, the conference's fifth-leading scorer, at point-blank range during that sequence. UMBC finally ended the drought when Ashley Stodter finishing off a clearing play by placing a shot into the left side with 2:10 remaining.
"They had momentum after defeating Boston University in overtime (in the semifinals)," explained Branchini, a senior defensive midfielder who won 13 draw controls in the two tournament games. "We made good decisions and came out and performed. I love looking back to see the ball in her (Berman's) stick. She didn't play like a freshman today."
The Great Danes, who were competing in the championship final for just the second time since joining America East in 2002, were fighting off the past to make history. UMBC upended regular-season champion Albany in last year's tournament semifinals.
"We have seen them before and we knew how to handle it," said Battaglia, as her team also posted a 12-11 win against UMBC to decide this season's regular-season title and top seed just one week ago. "We were ready for the game and focused."
The Retrievers' Amanda Pappas scored a pair, including a free-position goal that tied the contest in the opening half. UAlbany's Frink, who joined Battaglia, Branchini and Parker on the all-championship squad, had one goal and three assists.
"This is fantastic and it doesn't get old," said first-year Albany coach John Battaglino, who was promoted to the position after one season as the program's associate head coach and was previously a Syracuse assistant. "I have coached a lot of teams. But when you look at that fact that we were missing three starters (due to injury), this performance is one of the best."