A year ago, College of New Jersey goalie Heather Whalin left the NCAA Division III women's lacrosse championships in tears after losing the first game of her college career to Middlebury.
There were no tears yesterday after the senior made three exceptional saves in the final 34 minutes to preserve a 12-11 victory over defending champ Middlebury in a Division III semifinal before 1,221 at UMBC stadium.
Whalin snared two Amity Wall shots and then had to scramble as Wall's last-ditch effort rolled back into the crease. Whalin, who finished with 18 saves, somehow managed to recover the ball behind her before it could cross the goal line.
"The girls were all juggling around with it on the ground," said Whalin. "[Wall] shot it again and when I got it, I just held it. I looked up and saw 12 seconds left, so I knew I could come out of the cage once and have another full 10 seconds [to stay in the crease] if I rolled the ball back in. I knew that's what I had to do, because I was not throwing it out."
The victory avenged the Lions' only setback in their past 117 games -- last year's 14-9 title-game loss to Middlebury, from central Vermont.
The No. 1 Lions (14-0) will go for their 10th championship at noon today when they meet Williams. Williams defeated Hartwick, 14-10, in yesterday's other semifinal.
The Lions (formerly Trenton State) led Middlebury by as many as four goals early, but they found themselves in a second-half dogfight. The Panthers (14-3) rallied to tie at 7-7 after Missy Hopkins (Garrison Forest) won back-to-back draws and Wendy Hession and Katherine Rodormer converted them.
Earlier in the half, the Lions lost a goal when Jessica McCourt's stick was ruled illegal after she had scored. Middlebury used the break and Hopkins' draw control to drive a 4-1 scoring run.
But the Lions, who took advantage of Middlebury turnovers all afternoon and had a 35-12 edge in ground balls, recovered quickly. Dana Latona converted Middlebury's next turnover for the first of four straight goals. McCourt's free-position goal with 6: 18 left put New Jersey ahead 11-7.
Just before McCourt's goal, Whalin made another key three-save stand. Her point-blank stop against Heidi Dripps racing down the middle ranked among her best stops of the day.
Middlebury had proven earlier that four goals was not a safe lead and the Panthers rallied for four goals in the final six minutes. But the one goal the Panthers' did allow during that stretch -- by McCourt on a feed from Tracey Purtell with 4: 31 left -- proved to be one too many.
Wall (five goals) answered McCourt's goal. Then Lina Chickering (four goals) scored and fed Wall on the give-and-go in the final 48 seconds. Despite a couple of excellent attempts with time running out, Wall could not slip anther one past Whalin.
"I keep on seeing the net and it was there," said Wall, a junior from Bethesda. "I don't know how she did it, but she stepped in there and got them. I'll be seeing that net all summer long."
In the second semifinal, Williams (Mass.) used a nine-goal spurt to overpower Hartwick (N.Y.), which was making its first appearance in the tournament.
Hartwick took a 3-0 lead and was up 4-1 with 15: 02 left in the first half. Then the Ephs rolled off nine straight starting at the 10: 05 mark.
Lauren Gioia capped the run on a feed from Caroline Nesbit for a 10-4 lead just 4: 28 into the second half. Alana Teutonico had three of her game-high six goals in the run as the Ephs (14-1) held the Hawks (18-4) scoreless for more than 20 minutes. Although the Hawks came back with three straight, they never got closer than within three.
Middlebury 3 8 -- 11
New Jersey 6 6 -- 12
Pub Date: 5/17/98