West Chester advances past Limestone
Golden Rams enter third consecutive national semifinal
GAFFNEY, S.C. – If the old adage holds true that defense wins championships, then West Chester’s defensive display on Saturday helped prove that theory.
The Golden Rams’ defense in front of goalkeeper Jess Henderson was extraordinary in the first 30 minutes, and Henderson was equally impressive in the final 30 minutes, as seventh-ranked West Chester defeated No. 4 Limestone 11-7 in the first round of the NCAA Division II Women’s Lacrosse Championship at Saints Field.
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West Chester (15-3) advances to the national semifinals next Thursday against Rollins (15-1) at 11 a.m. in Louisville, Ky. as part of the NCAA Division II Festival. It marks the 10th time in the last 12 years and the third year in a row that the Golden Rams have reached the semifinals.
The other national semifinal features C.W. Post, a 14-11 winner against three-time defending champion Adelphi on Saturday, against LeMoyne following the West Chester-Rollins contest.
The defensive effort helped West Chester get out in front of host Limestone (17-2), forcing the Saints to play from behind, which is something they had not had to do since March 15 against Bentley. Limestone’s loss ended a 15-game winning streak for the Saints.
Nicole Pyle got things started early with a goal 1:13 into the contest. She one-timed a pass from behind the cage thrown by Tori Dugan to put the visitors on top, 1-0.
The two nationally ranked programs would trade goals in the first 13 minutes of the contest until the Golden Rams went on a three-goal run to open up a 5-2 advantage. West Chester won six consecutive draw controls in a 10-minute span to control possessions and put pressure on Limestone’s defense that the Saints were not accustomed to feeling.
“It was an exciting win against a very, very good Limestone team,” West Chester head coach Ginny Martino said. “We played with a lot of composure all game. When you have [Limestone’s Racquel Prager], who has scored 70 goals this year, you don’t want her to have the ball.”
The Golden Rams defense bottled up the All-America attacker all afternoon, limiting her to one goal on five shots in the game.
"We had some great slides today and just knocked Limestone out of its comfort zone.”
Senior midfielder Erin Oczkowski scored three unassisted tallies, one on a free position, in the first half to help stake West Chester to a 7-4 lead at the break. Limestone’s Sarah Oor drew the Saints within a pair (7-5) early in the second half. However, the Rams’ Lauren Glassey potted consecutive goals four minutes apart to open up a four-goal lead (9-5) with 20 minutes remaining. It marked the largest deficit that Limestone had faced all season.
Glassey finished with a game-high four points (3 goals, 1 assist).
The second half belonged to West Chester’s birthday girl, Jess Henderson (15-3), in the cage. The sophomore goalkeeper who turned 20 on Saturday picked up her first career playoff win while making six saves.
“[My defense] dictated what Limestone was going to do,” Henderson commented. “It gave me confidence to stand in there. I wasn’t worried at all.”
Senior All-PSAC defender Andrea Smith was a big part of shutting down Limestone’s talented attack. She finished with one caused turnover, four ground balls and a pair of draw controls.
“We have had some good defensive efforts this year,” Smith said. “But, today was definitely among the top three that I can remember. Coach prepared us very well for this [game], and we all have confidence in Jess back there.”
West Chester won the draw control battle, 12-8, and also picked up more ground balls (25-21), as the Golden Rams held possession for a good part of the second half, including the final six minutes of the game.
“We held the ball for almost eight minutes,” Martino added. “I think we did a good job towards the end and did not get rattled with what Limestone was bringing.”
At the other end of the field, West Chester’s offense was not surprised by Limestone’s double-teaming and zone defense. Though the Golden Rams did not see much of that in the regular season, the attack and midfielders moved the ball around with precision, which kept Limestone off balance.
“Our defenders played Limestone’s defense in practice,” Oczkowski explained. “I think they played it just as well, if not better, than Limestone. So, that prepared us for what they were going to do.”
Jamie Dolan, Tori Dugan, Jacki Patterson and Theresa Giunta also scored for the Golden Rams.