Trying to avenge last season’s loss to Mercyhurst in the PSAC semifinals, the WCU women’s lacrosse team, now ranked No. 10 in the nation, is back with a strong 19-8 win over Chestnut Hill in their season opener Wednesday afternoon Feb. 24.
West Chester (1-0) jumped out to an 8-1 lead 10 minutes into the contest and never looked back. Junior Dina Cifelli started strong and led the Golden Rams, finishing with eight points that included six assists. Senior Hannah Cowan had four goals, all scored within the first 15 minutes of the game. Junior Ashley Pyle also scored four, with three of her markers in the first half. Pyle finished with six assists.
Freshman Sami Barnett posted a hat trick in her first collegiate appearance, with three goals. Trailing 8-1 just 10 minutes into the contest, Chestnut Hill scored three straight goals to cut the deficit in half 8-4. But Golden Rams head coach Ginny Martino called a timeout and her defense responded, holding Chestnut Hill scoreless for the next 31 minutes while the Rams’ offense rattled off 11 unanswered tallies to push the game out of reach 19-4.
Erin Gallagher finished the game with two goals and two assists. Erin Eckert also scored a pair of goals and assisted on another.
Sophomore goalkeeper Paige Mitros made three saves to pick up the win for West Chester.
Earlier this year, the team was picked to win the PSAC in a preseason poll of the league’s head coaches. The Lady Rams are coming off a 13-5 record overall and a 9-3 mark in conference play that landed the squad in fourth place last season. However, led by 10 returning starters including a dangerous three-headed attack anchored by the senior captain Cowan, West Chester received seven first-place votes from head coaches in the league to earn the tag as a favorite in the upcoming season.
“Having 10 returning starters from last year’s squad will be a great foundation to build upon,” Martino said. “They are all great players and excellent leaders.”
Rounding out the preseason top four in order in the PSAC are Seton Hill, Lock Haven and Mercyhurst, all of whom received first-place votes and are ranked nationally in the top 15. In what should be a tightly-contested league, Seton Hill began the year ranked No. 14, while defending PSAC champion and two-time consecutive national runner-up Lock Haven started the year ranked the highest at No. 8. Mercyhurst is ranked No. 13.
The rest of the preseason PSAC poll is as follows: Indiana, Slippery Rock, Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Gannon, Millersville, Edinboro, Shippensburg and Kutztown. Of the 13 teams, eight qualify for the postseason tournament.
As for West Chester, the preseason favorites will look to make their 16th consecutive appearance in PSAC postseason, where they’ve won eight titles during that span. In addition to Cowan, who led the team with 42 goals, West Chester returns four All-PSAC selections from a year ago. Pyle, a junior attacker, led the team in points with 41 goals and 31 assists last year enroute to a first team all-conference selection. Joining Cowan and Pyle on the attack is third-team all-conference selection Cifelli. She led the team with 42 assists last year.
Rounding out the balanced offensive attack is senior midfielder Eckert, who was a second-team all-conference selection a year ago after scoring 33 goals. A pair of fellow seniors, Gallagher and Caroline Kuchinsky, round out a very talented group.
“Fortunately, we have the deepest bench that we have had in a very long time,” Martino said. “We have 29 interchangeable players that will allow us to continually pump fresh legs into the game for an entire 60 minutes.”
Junior defender Mckayl Novak, a third-team all-conference selection, and senior captain Erin Scheno lead the defense.
Martino will enter her 19th season with West Chester in 2016, making her the longest-tenured coach in PSAC women’s lacrosse. She is the all-time winningest head coach in the sport’s Division II history, with an overall record of 263-65. Martino has led West Chester to two national championships in 2002 and 2008 and most notably carried a 72-game conference winning streak that was ultimately snapped in 2012.
But perhaps most impressively in the 15-year history of Division II women’s lacrosse, Martino has led West Chester to the national title game nine times the most of any school, including seven-time national champion Adelphi.
Martino led the Lady Rams to five consecutive appearances in the title game from 2004 to 2008, each ending in defeat before ultimately beating LIU Post in the 2008 final for the program’s second championship.
West Chester is back in action on Saturday, March 5 against Philadelphia University.
The match will be at home at Vonnie Gros Field at 1 p.m.
Before entering conference play, West Chester will play a pair of road games against Holy Family University on Tuesday, March 8 and Catawba College on Friday, March 11.
Then, they’ll start conference play on Tuesday, March 15 against Millersville.
After that, they’ll have a showdown with Mercyhurst on the road on March 19.
The other two big conference games against Lock Haven (April 6 at home) and Seton Hill (April 16 on the road) will come later in the year.
Gianna Seeney is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at GS789405@wcupa.edu.