Courtesy Middlebury Sports Information
ASHLAND, VA. — Middlebury advanced to the NCAA Championship game for the third time in the last four seasons, as the third-ranked Panthers doubled up eighth-ranked Wesleyan (17-4) 16-8 Saturday in the national semifinals in Ashland, Virginia. The Panthers (21-1), who extended their winning streak to 21-straight games, will play for the program’s seventh championship on Sunday at 2:00 p.m., taking on either Salisbury or Tufts.
With the 16 goals in the victory, Middlebury established a program record for goals in a season with 316, moving past the old mark of 312 set by both the 2016 and 2018 squads.
The Cardinals grabbed 1-0 lead 1:28 into the contest on a shot from the top of the crease by Johanna Copeland. Middlebury received a big save from goalie Julia Keith on a close-range shot by Wesleyan’s Sydney Prokupek five minutes later, and on the ensuing possession, Jane Earley used a low shot on a free-position attempt to tie the game. The Panthers took their first lead 37 seconds later on a tally by Erin Nicholas and Earley scored again after a feed from Sarah DiCenso while cutting to the net for a 3-1 edge.
The Cardinals trimmed the margin to a goal, before the Panthers picked up two more scores 3:10 apart. Jenna McNicholas earned the first of those from the right side of the crease on a feed by Emily Barnard, while Emma McDonagh capitalized on a free-position attempt with 15:22 on the clock. Following a Wesleyan goal, Middlebury closed out the first half with the final three tallies for an 8-3 advantage. Kirsten Murphy scored on a free-position shot and McDonagh added two more from the eight-meter line. The Panther defense did its part in the latter half of the period, muting a pair of two-minute advantages for the Cardinals and didn’t allow a goal over the final 13-plus minutes.
In the second frame, McDonagh picked up her third-consecutive goal with another free-position attempt with just 43 seconds expired. Copeland recorded Wesleyan’s first goal of the new stanza, but the Panthers put together a modest two-goal run with the Cardinals responding with a three-goal burst to close the gap to 11-7 with 13:59 remaining.
McDonagh countered for the Panthers, cashing in on another free-position attempt. Middlebury slowly pulled away with McNicholas scoring from the top of the crease, before Barnard set up Henley Hall for a tally from close range for a 14-7 edge with 4:54 left on the clock. Grace Getman and Kate Zecca tacked on goals in the final three minutes for the Panthers, while Wesleyan’s Emi Ogden-Fung closed the scoring in the final 60 seconds for the 16-8 finals.
McDonagh led all players with five goals, while Earley tallied twice and set up another. McNicholas and Hall each netted a pair, while Barnard and DiCenso had two helpers apiece. Nicholas collected a game-high seven draw controls, while Addy Mitchell had a caused turnover, setting a program single-season record with 44, besting the old mark set by Evie Keating ’18 a year ago. Keith (19-1) earned the win in goal with six saves.
Abby Manning led the Cardinals with two goals and one assist, while Indigo Pellegrino de Paur had four draws. Copeland and Jordan Ansell each had three ground balls. Grant finished with six saves.
Middlebury held a 31-25 edge in shots and an 18-8 advantage in draws, while Wesleyan won the battle for ground balls 20-16.
The Panthers improved to 15-0 this season against ranked opponents, while leading the all-time series with the Cardinals 20-0. The team’s defense also held the opposition to nine goals or less for the 17-straight contest.