Women’s lacrosse plays possession game in upset of Ithaca

Above, senior Fiona MacLeod and her loved ones during Saturday’s lacrosse Senior Day festivities. Below to the right, members of Vassar’s senior class line up with their families. Courtesy of Nick Jallat

When you hear about people’s plans for April 20, you usually hear versions of the same outline. Somebody either is or isn’t celebrating to the fullest, but their day will no doubt be shaped by the aura of the mythical holiday of 4/20.

In other words, you probably don’t hear a lot about planning to knock off a nationally ranked opponent. Unbothered by the typical associations that accompany the date, Vassar women’s lacrosse team made plans for a less conventional 4/20 celebration this past weekend, beating 19th-ranked Ithaca on Senior Day in a 15–14 nailbiter.

The win came just a day after a double-overtime 16–15 triumph over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), giving the Brewers their longest conference winning streak of the season and taking them to 4-4 in the Liberty League. Four Brewers recorded hat tricks, including sophomore midfielder Haydn Hallman, whose goal with 70 seconds remaining broke a 15–15 deadlock and won the day for Vassar.

Ithaca’s women’s lacrosse program, which only entered the Liberty League last season, is already a powerhouse. Vassar senior midfielder Fiona MacLeod, responsible for one of Vassar’s four hat tricks, acknowledged the Bombers’ rapid rise, saying, “[Ithaca]definitely took the league by surprise with their level of skill.”

The Brewers remained unfazed by the rankings, however, and were fueled by their marathon win over RPI the previous day. According to junior midfielder Tessa Waters, who also scored three times, the team stuck to a gameplan of “1) possession, 2) possession, and 3) possession.”

Time of possession, measured most notably in soccer, is an unappreciated aspect of most team sports. As junior attacker Kelly Pushie pointed out, “If we possess the ball, they can’t score.”

Not unlike a basketball team trying to keep their opponent from racking up fastbreak points, the Brewers worked the shot clock (90 seconds in collegiate lacrosse) and made Ithaca play at their pace. Winning involves more than simply holding the ball, however, and Vassar’s offense was deadly, ripping off their second highest-scoring game in league play this season.

Three of the Vassar hat tricks came from three of the team’s top four goalscorers: MacLeod, Waters and first-year midfielder Caeli Porette, who leads the team in goals in conference play and was recently named Liberty League Rookie of the Week for the third time this season.

When asked about the Brewers’ mindset going into a game that was a must-win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Porette said: “[T]he team vibe was actually extremely calm. We just went in knowing that we had to fight hard and be the first on everything, whether it be on the draw, on defense or the first to score.”

That composed aggression gave the Brewers a 21-10 edge in draw controls, which, combined with a whole lot of possession, unlocked what Porette described as a long-awaited objective: “We had been waiting for our full potential to finally make an appearance and pay off, and that’s exactly what happened.”

That the Brewers shocked Ithaca late in the regular season was special enough. Coming on Senior Day, a game that usually comes after postseason qualification has more or less been settled, the upset was even more meaningful. MacLeod, one of seven Brewer seniors honored prior to Sunday’s game, said, “I definitely think this is the most monumental win we’ve had as a team in all of my four years of being here.”

Coming off a storybook weekend, Vassar has two Liberty League contests remaining, one against a traditional punching bag in Bard and then Union, which sits a game behind the Brewers in the conference standings. To underestimate 0–8 Bard—though understandable—would be to ignore the lessons of Sunday’s win.

Courtesy of Nick Jallat

The Brewers are, to use a phrase often referenced in a slightly different context, focusing on themselves. Waters explained: “[We] can’t go into [Tuesday’s] game against Bard thinking that it’s going to be easy.” Pushie stressed the importance of consistency, saying, “We have to keep practicing and playing with a high level of intensity.”

If the Brewers sweep their next two games, then they would clinch a playoff berth, something that hasn’t happened in the careers of the current seniors. It’s not an exaggeration to say the Brewers are peaking at the right time. As Porette explained, “I think this weekend as a whole was a major turning point for our team…This was exactly the fire we needed to fuel us.”

A consistent, motivated Vassar team is not likely to lend any opponents confidence after this past weekend.

Upsets always have an impact that goes beyond the mathematical surprise of an underdog beating a favored opponent. The shock visible on an overconfident team’s face when they lose (think Ben Stiller and Globo Gym at the end of “Dodgeball”) is cruelly satisfying—except for when it’s March Madness, and everyone is crying a lot, in which case it’s more sad than anything else. The underdog’s shock and joy at having pulled off the upset is palpable. For Vassar, the image of Peter La Fleur’s face when he removes his blindfold after beaning White Goodman is a thing of the past.

Pushie spoke to the team’s mood: “A win against a team like Ithaca definitely boosted our confidence. We proved this past weekend that we not only have the ability to hang with really good teams, but we have the ability to win.”

For the Brewers, the hope is that wins like Sunday’s become the norm, losing shock value in exchange for sustained success. The talent on the roster is evident. As Waters said, “We are capable of beating any team in the Liberty League.” Porette added, “I think we are a lot better than we even give ourselves credit for.”

They can hang, they can win and they can really, really possess. Vassar women’s lacrosse is fresh off a historic upset, and they’re looking for more.

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