DENVER - National Champions!! Let's repeat that, National Champions!!
Florida Southern made history here Saturday afternoon as the No. 3 ranked Moccasins rallied from a three-goal halftime deficit to post a thrilling come-from-behind 8-7 win over top-ranked Adelphi in the NCAA Division II National Championship game at the Regency Athletic Complex on the campus of Metro State University to capture the program's first-ever national title in women's lacrosse.
Saturday's national championship was also the 29th all-time national title in Florida Southern history. Prior to Saturday, FSC's most recent team national title came last season when the men's basketball team brought home its second-ever NCAA Division II national title.
"We felt that if we could keep it close in the first half, it would give us a chance to win the game," Moccasin head coach Kara Reber said. "I thought defensively we really stepped it up in the second half and held them (Adelphi) scoreless for nearly 23 minutes and then our offense did a better job in the second half on capitalizing on their opportunities."
While the national title was the 29th in Florida Southern's history, the national championship was the first-ever for a women's lacrosse team from outside the states of Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts in the 16 year history of the sport. In addition, Florida Southern is just the fifth school to win a Division II women's lacrosse national title.
"There were a lot of people that wanted to see a school from the South win a national title. The schools in the North have dominated the sport so much, so I was happy to have us pull it out," the Moccasin coach said.
Adelphi, who was a perfect 7-for-7 all-time in national title games prior to Saturday's loss, entered the game looking to win its third straight national title and eighth in school history. Meanwhile, the Mocs were playing in its first-ever national title game in just its fourth-ever NCAA Tournament game. Adelphi was playing in its 25th all-time NCAA Tournament game.
"I am so happy for this team. They've worked so hard and have worked hard every day to accomplish this achievement," Reber added. "This is a very special and very deserving team."
With the victory, the Moccasins improve to 19-3 overall and end the season with a school record 14 game winning streak. Adelphi, who had its 28 game win streak snapped with the loss, closes the year with a 21-1 record. The 19 wins this season ties the mark for most wins in a single season which was first achieved by last year's squad.
Saturday's national championship game was the final contest for FSC's six seniors, four of which started the national title game. The six seniors this season are defender Gabby Barowski (Alexandria, Va.), defender Nicole Bellini (Winter Park, Fla.), attacker Grace Donovan (Boise, Id.), defender Rachael Griffith (Ellicott City, Md.), attacker Allie Kryjak (Millersville, Md.) and attacker Ashley Robertson (Ellicott City, Md.).
Barowski, Donovan, Griffith, Kryjak and Robertson played all four years for the Mocs and finish their careers with a 65-13 record, including posting a 38-7 record the past two seasons.
"I couldn't be more excited for our seniors. They have been invested in our program since they arrived on campus and are such amazing leaders," said Reber, who improved to 77-17 as the Moccasins head coach. "They are selfless, work hard, push each other and are such a very special class."
In Saturday's victory, sophomore All-American attacker Meghan O'Brien (Rochester, N.Y.) led the offensively for the Mocs with four goals, while junior attacker Kendall Kerge (Edgewater, Md.) added two goals in the win.
Trailing 6-3 at the half, Florida Southern struck first in the second half as O'Brien scored on a free position shot with 23:38 left in the game to pull the Mocs within 6-4. O'Brien's goal, which was her third of the game, came on an empty net situation after Adelphi goalkeeper Taylor Hayes drew a yellow card for contact to the head on O'Brien.
The Mocs would then use a man-up free position goal from Kerge just about eight minutes into the second half to drop Adelphi's lead to 6-5 and then Kerge would score her second consecutive goal with 18:47 left in the game to tie the game at 6-all. Kerge's goal, which was her team-leading 56th of the season, came off an assist by Robertson.
O'Brien would add her fourth goal of the game with 17:44 remaining in the game to give the Mocs its first lead of the game at 7-6.
The Mocs continued its hot offensive play in the second half as sophomore midfielder Emily Santoli (Fort Salonga, N.Y.) scored a goal with about eight-and-half minutes left in the game to give the Mocs an 8-6 lead.
The Panthers, though, would answer Santoli's goal nearly a minute later on a goal by Kate Beier to pull Adelphi within 8-7. That goal snapped a nearly 24 minute scoring drought for the seven-time national champion Panthers.
From that point, neither team was able to score and then the Mocs turned the game over to its defense as they would block a shot by Rachel O'Brien with 2:09 left and then hold the ball on the offensive end of the field to seal the national championship.
Adelphi, who advanced to the championship game with a 13-4 win over No. 2 ranked Le Moyne in Thursday's national semifinals, struck first in the opening two-plus minutes of Saturday's game on a free position goal by Michele Scannell.
The Mocs, though, would answer a little over five minutes into the game on a goal by sophomore attacker Cayla Shawfield (Oviedo, Fla.) off a pass from sophomore attacker Shannon Gilfedder (Longwood, Fla.).
Adelphi would take a 2-1 lead on an unassisted goal by O'Brien with 24:22 left in the opening half. O'Brien's goal came 17 seconds after Shawfield's score.
The Panthers lead grew to 3-1 on an unassisted goal by Beth Ann Pierce with 20:28 left in the first half.
FSC's O'Brien brought the Mocs within 3-2 following her unassisted goal with a little more 12 minutes left in the first half.
Adelphi junior Jacqueline Jahelka took a pass from O'Brien with 6:18 left in the half and found the net to give the Panthers a 4-2 lead. About 87 seconds later, O'Brien scored her second goal of the game with 4:51 left to pull the Mocs within a goal at 4-3.
Emily Keesling gave Adelphi a 5-3 lead just 21 seconds following O'Brien's goal. Keesling's goal came on a rebound shot after her free position attempt was saved by junior goalkeeper Taylor Gillis (Bel Air, Md.).
Keesling scored her straight goal with 2:18 left in the opening half to push the Panthers lead to 6-3.
For the game, Adelphi outshot the Mocs, 21-12, but committed 10 turnovers, were 1-for-4 on their free position shots and were called for four yellow cards that led to three man-up goals for the Mocs. FSC had just seven turnovers, were 2-for-3 on its free position attempts and recorded just one yellow card on the day.
The Mocs also held a 10-7 edge in ground balls, which held negate the Panthers' 11-6 advantage on draw controls.
FSC's strong defensive effort was also aided by the strong play in goal by Gills, who improved to 13-2 on the season. For the game, Gillis, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Division II Women's Lacrosse Championships, finished with eight saves and allowed seven goals in Saturday's championship game, but just one of those goals came in the second half.
Hayes, who entered the game allowing just 4.17 goals per game, took the loss in the net for the Panthers as she allowed six goals, had three saves and picked up four ground balls.
In addition to Gillis, the other members of the National Championship All-Tournament Team were Kerge, O'Brien, Santoli, Scannell, Keesling, Adelphi's Camille Roselini, FSC sophomore defender Sarah Rheinsmith (Virginia Beach, Va.), Lindenwood's Morgan Judd, Lindenwood's Erin Abbott, Le Moyne's Maggie Monnat and Le Moyne's Alexis Garbarino.