SALEM, Va. — Sophomore Steph Colson scored with 2:57 left and Gettysburg women's lacrosse rode out the remaining time after winning the final draw control to secure its second Division III women's lacrosse championship with a 6-5 victory over top-ranked TCNJ on Sunday at Kerr Stadium on the campus of Roanoke College.
Gettysburg (21-3) earned its second national championship in its first appearance in the title game since 2011. The seventh-ranked Bullets avenged a one-goal regular season defeat at the hands of TCNJ (19-2) by netting the final two goals of the game in response to a four-goal run by the Lions.
"It was a hard-fought victory," said head coach Carol Cantele. "Two exceptional teams giving it their all, battling to the final finish. I'm so proud of the fight that our players had and their hustle and heart."
2017 Division III Women's Lacrosse National Champions @gburgbullets pic.twitter.com/TomgAzMnNU— NCAA Division III (@NCAADIII) May 28, 2017
Colson posted a pair of goals and added a second national title to the family mantle, with younger sister Lizzie helping Maryland win the Division I title over Boston College earlier Sunday afternoon. The Gettysburg sophomore took care of business late in the game, completing a clear attempt and beating her defender with a strong charge to the cage.
"Sometimes when you're running down the field you just get tunnel vision and if you see one girl in front of you, you just have to take it," noted Colson, who was named NCAA Tournament Most Valuable Player.
Senior Emma Christie tallied two goals and senior goalie Shannon Keeler posted six saves and three ground balls. Keeler, senior attacker Caroline Jaeger and junior Cassie Smith were each named to the NCAA All-Tournament team.
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Gettysburg's second national crown did not come without its share of adversity. The Bullets carried a 4-1 lead into the break, but TCNJ mounted a second-half comeback. Mia Blackman kicked off a four-goal run with a free-position goal with 25:58 to play. Kathleen Jaeger, first-cousin to Gettysburg's Jaeger, tallied the game-tying goal with 17 minutes left. The defenses pitched a shutout over the next nine minutes before Kathleen Jaeger snuck through the defense and ripped a shot into the net to make it 5-4 with 8:34 left.
"We knew they're very good drivers and knew how to create opportunities for getting on the eight," Cantele said. "You could also see that moment of where they said this is not happening. They're one of the most competitive teams we go up against year-in and year-out."
But the Bullets did not fold under pressure. After Caroline Jaeger controlled the ball for Gettysburg, freshman Courtney Patterson found a seam in the defense and forced her way to the front of the cage for the equalizer with 7:36 to go.
"I think it speaks to their mentality all year," Cantele said. "They know the game isn't over until the final whistle blows. They've focused all season on being in the now and thinking strong and being fully present."
After getting beat 5-1 on draws in the first half, Gettysburg grabbed 6 of 7 draw controls in Period 2. The Bullets managed to grab the ensuing draw and ran two minutes off the clock before a turnover. The miscue didn't prove costly as junior Ali Gorab caused a turnover and Keeler recovered the ground ball.
That set the stage for Colson's late-game heroics in just her fifth game back from an injury that sidelined her seven weeks. Junior Katie Willis fought her way to the final draw control to seal the victory. Gettysburg's passing was pristine as the team evaded the last-ditch effort to regain possession by TCNJ.
"This is an absolute dream," Keeler said. "But it came with a lot of hard work and tears and ups and downs and adversity. I'm not that surprised because I knew this team was special. There's just some sort of chemistry that I'd never experienced before. Everyone was just so motivated by the same vision."
After the game, Cantele was quick to point out the leadership of her five seniors — Christie, Jaeger, Keeler, Macauley Mikes and Katelyn Neillands. After the final horn sounded, the five seniors were among the first to grab the national trophy and hoist it high.
"They've been an outstanding group," Cantele said about her senior class. "They've all led in very different ways and different manners, which is outstanding because people respond differently to types of leadership."
Mikes finished with two ground balls and one caused turnover and wrapped up her collegiate career having appeared in a program-record 86 games. Neillands tallied one ground ball and a caused turnover.
Gettysburg tied the program record for victories in a season and shattered the program and conference record for goals-against average at 4.78. Keeler finished with the lowest single-season GAA by a player at 5.00, while closing her career with a record 66 wins.
The Bullets defeated two No. 1 teams this season for the first time in program history. Gettysburg took out No. 1 Franklin & Marshall 12-6 on April 5. The Orange and Blue only had one victory over a No. 1 team prior to 2017.
The team posed for a multitude of pictures after the game with tears and smiles aplenty among the players and staff members. It was a dream season for Gettysburg, one that will not be forgotten anytime soon.
"It couldn't happen to a greater group of individuals," Cantele said. "It couldn't have happened to a better institution. They've represented our institution so famously, with passion and energy. It was a great experience from start to finish."